OT: Moon Landing (cool story bro)

Submitted by bluewave720 on February 15th, 2014 at 6:30 PM

I was just watching the Olympics with the Mrs. and NBC had a piece about the space race between the United States and Russia.  It reminded me of an incredible story I heard.

I have had many conversations with a man who was employed at NASA at the time of the first moon landing.  As I'm sure you are all familiar with, Neil Armstrong, while taking his first steps on the moon, bounces slightly.  Most people think it was because of a lack of gravity.  My engineering friend said that was not why Armstrong bounced when he hit the moon's surface.

Before Apollo 11 landed on the moon, there was an extensive amount of discussion involving the NASA brain trust over what, exactly, the moon was made out of.  After months of deliberation, the panel had decided on two possibilities.  Either the moon was solid, and a human could walk on it.  Or the moon had a center comprised of space dust and any human who touched it's surface would fall a hundred meters into it's center and be lost forever.

Neil Armstrong, before placing his feet on the moon's surface, wasn't sure if he'd ever come back to Earth.  His bounce was a reflex, because he didn't know if he'd be buried forever in outer space, or be the first human to successful walk on the moon's surface .  

I've thought of this so many times and can't believe how bad ass that crew was for taking that trip.   



February 15th, 2014 at 9:38 PM ^

Likely no concern because the Surveyor program had done some fairly extensive testing of the lunar surface during the years immediately proceeding Apollo 11.  

Armstrong may have in fact been hesitant, but by the time he was stepping on the moon NASA scientists knew that he and Aldrin would be able to make their way around without sinking out of sight.


February 15th, 2014 at 6:45 PM ^

But there was still a possibility of a snowshoe effect, where the size of the saucers on the landing craft allowed it to stay up on a deep powdery surface that a human might sink through. Not to the center of the moon, of course, but deep enough to be effed.

Unlikely, of course... but how sure would you really be?


February 15th, 2014 at 6:51 PM ^

I could be wrong, but one source of the speculation (I believe several other people were working on similar indirect experiments / theories) - as far as I understand - from a very rough estimate of the relative amount of dust on the moon made by a guy who was using atmospheric dust from the easily accessible area near Mauna Loa and estimating through some method how much of that dust must have come from space. This was in the early 1960s before there was any satellite data regarding the subject, as I recall.

Mind you, this comes from a very old issue of Scientific American that I came across in a library while working on a project, so I could be misremembering something. I believe he based the assumptions based on the amount of nickel which was in known meteorites and then scaled his own estimate for Earth to fit the Moon (the assumption that it might be a linear relationship alone makes me wince). He did say that this was purely speculative and based on indirect observation, but it did help fuel the discussion that the OP mentions (I imagine a few other scientists had similar reservations, but I cannot imagine it was that many). I will say, however, that I would be shocked if anyone at NASA was surprised that the lunar module, and susequently Armstrong, landed just fine. 


February 15th, 2014 at 6:49 PM ^

Yeah this is definitely an "incredible story" in the literal sense. The Surveyor program, in which the US landed several probes on the moon to take various readings in preparation for the Apollo landings, had already answered that question quite definitively. Scientists at the time also knew that the moon was solid for various other reasons, including the ability to calculate its density based on the ratio between its size and gravitational influence.