Still working on the project I teased last week. Should be next Monday. For now …
The Sixties are running out, at least in calendar terms.
And this week, we join my grandfather as — like a stoned hippie staring at his hand against the backdrop of the starry sky — he contemplates a confluence of the extraterrestrial and the deeply rooted.
I’ve written about my grandpa’s fascination with the U.S. space program, here and here and here and here, and maybe even elsewhere. As a patriotic American, he appreciated his country’s steps into uncharted territory; as an amateur gearhead and tinkerer, he was interested in the science it took to make space journeys happen.
Apollo 11, in July 1969, was the landmark mission that brought man to the moon for the first time. My grandfather, like many Americans, was riveted to the journey. So it’s no surprise that he would have made it a priority to track the follow-up mission and see what new frontiers would be broken this time around.
The Apollo 12 rocket was hit by lightning during liftoff — not once but twice, according to Wikipedia — which caused a few technical challenges, but did not impair the mission in the grand scheme of things. This must have been publicly disclosed as it happened, since my grandfather made wordless reference to it on his calendar entry.
(According to Wiki, the lightning strikes raised concern in Houston whether the return vehicle’s parachutes would deploy as designed. Rather than worry the astronauts, NASA kept their worries to themselves for the length of the mission. Everything worked out fine in the end.)
Apparently there was not much to report space-wise on Nov. 15, with the astronauts still four days away from landing on the moon.
So, my grandpa turned his attention from the cosmos to his backyard and got his hands dirty tackling a bunch of quintessentially mid-November chores — raking up leaves, winterizing the mower, and either putting up or taking down the storm sash.
(I am not sure exactly what the “storm sash” was, but it sounds like something seasonal. Not sure what my grandpa had to do to his cellar door, either. But whatever it was, it didn’t get done on Nov. 15.)
In the end, the Apollo 12 mission went so well as to be largely forgettable in retrospect.
In one of the mission’s more memorable details, the wrist “cuff checklists” worn by astronauts Alan Bean and Pete Conrad were spiced up by their NASA colleagues with Snoopy-style cartoons and pictures of Playboy playmates (yes, the latter link is NSFW.)
This suggests a certain confidence, comfort and chumminess that was largely borne out by Apollo 12’s success.
The near-disaster of Apollo 13 must have refocused everyone at NASA and knocked the jokes out of the playbook. But in November 1969, that was still five months away and unforeseen, and the business of space was running as smoothly as the business of General Motors.
All of which no doubt came as welcome news to my grandpa, back in Connecticut tending to the health of his own little patch of earth.
Hopefully he got all the leaves off the ground on the 15th. Because, by the time the astronauts splashed down on Nov. 24, a different earthly concern — snow — had entered the equation.