The path dependence of astronaut walks

by on August 26, 2012 at 5:59 pm in Games, History, Science | Permalink

…there was a fierce behind-the-scenes battle between them to be first to set foot on the Moon. Early plans were for Aldrin, as module pilot, to step out first, but one version reported by Smith has it that Armstrong, as mission commander, lobbied more vigorously than Aldrin, and Nasa backed him up because he would be ‘better equipped to handle the clamour when he got back’ and, more mundanely, because his seat in the lunar module was closer to the door. Aldrin paid Armstrong back by taking no photographs of him on the Moon: the only manually taken lunar image of the First Man on the Moon is in one of many pictures Armstrong snapped of Aldrin, showing himself reflected in the visor of Aldrin’s spacesuit.

That is from this excellent Steve Shapin article, hat tip goes to @MauraCunningham.  I liked this part:

…they were on the same basic pay rates as other US military officers: most were captains, making about $17,000 a year. (On their missions to the Moon, they were entitled only to the standard $8 per diem for being away from base, with deductions for ‘accommodation’ provided in the spaceship.)

liberalarts August 26, 2012 at 6:56 pm

Great story. Reminds me of the American classic folk song, “Drill Ye Tarriers, Drill.”
The foreman’s name was John McCann
By God, he was a blamed mean man
Last week a premature blast went off
And a mile in the air went big Jim Goff.

And when next payday came around
Jim Goff a dollar short was found
When he asked, “What for?” came this reply
“You were docked for the time you were up in the sky.”

Enrique August 26, 2012 at 7:53 pm

NASA and the astronauts should have considered drawing lots, tossing a coin, or using some other random device to solve this problem

Ronald Brak August 27, 2012 at 12:19 am

Surely you’d get higher economic efficiency by auctioning off the first on the moon rights?

Ed August 27, 2012 at 11:42 am

I thought of that too. Would it have been possible for both to jump out of the lumar module or the steps and the same time, and the first to land on the moon becomes the first to land on the moon?

Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay never would say who was actually the first to reach the summit of Everest. There is only a picture of Norgay at the summit, but apparently that was a deliberate decision by Hillary.

Bill Frank August 26, 2012 at 8:29 pm

According to Chris Kraft’s and Deke Slayton’s biographies, as mission commander Armstrong used his prerogative during training to change the protocol in order to exit first. Did this because he configuration of the Lunar Module made it logical for the Commander to be the first one out the door. Then Aldrin threw a fit and tried to go over the heads of chain of command….which caused Kraft to get formally involved and declare Armstrong would take the first steps on the moon.

Seth C August 26, 2012 at 8:45 pm

Deductions notwithstanding, that must be the biggest per capita subsidy in the history of federal housing.

JKB August 26, 2012 at 10:51 pm

But they couldn’t beat the bureaucrats. A few years ago, I came across the customs declaration form for the moon rocks. Filed in Hawaii with Customs.

mk August 27, 2012 at 2:00 am

“Second comes right after first! *cough*”

dearieme August 27, 2012 at 5:44 am

I don’t understand the plaudits that I see elsewhere for their unbelievable bravery. Were they really braver than the men who flew bombers over Germany?

Finch August 27, 2012 at 9:23 am

They probably had a higher chance of dying, or at least thought they did, if that’s your question…

They had a much greater chance of being embarrassed had they screwed up, and I wonder if that might have weighed more on their minds than the death thing.

Ronald Brak August 27, 2012 at 7:15 pm

I think that given the low number of deaths in the US space program at the time and the sucess of the lunar orbiting missions, and that the lander in the Apollo 10 mission got within 15.6 km of the lunar surface and back safely, that the astronauts would have judged their survival chances as considerably higher than allied bomber crews. (This doesn’t make them any less brave, it’s not like they were given a choice between bomb Germany or go to the moon, it just makes them good at math.)

Ronald Brak August 27, 2012 at 7:25 pm

(And given the number of British missiions that bombed civillians, I’d count someone who refused to participate in them as brave and heroic. And also, quite possibly court marshalled.)

Ricardo August 28, 2012 at 12:14 am

Aldrin rated the chance of returning safely to earth at 99% — Armstrong had it at a more pessimistic 90%. Not sure how this compares to pilots flying combat missions but one should note that Armstrong had previously served in the Korean War, flew as a test pilot under some rather hair-raising conditions and came literally within half a second of death while training on a lunar module simulation. Not sure about Aldrin’s resume but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was similar. Summary: he was a bad ass.

Finch August 28, 2012 at 10:37 am

I think NASA thought the risk was about 1 in 10, which was worse than an individual flight for a bomber crew, right? The hardest part about bomber crew must have been having to do that again and again… I’m not trying to downplay the bravery of bomber crews here.

I can’t imagine Aldrin thought the risk of death was one percent. His interactions with Armstrong aside, he was a very smart guy and one percent risk of death seems wildly unrealistic.

Finch August 28, 2012 at 11:26 am

Given that Apollo 13 was almost lost both during the launch (though this was overshadowed by the later mishap) and in space, and I think five astronauts died in various tests and training associated with Apollo, that an estimate of a 1 in 10 chance of dying on a particular mission and maybe a 1 in 5 chance of dying in the program is probably pretty realistic. A priori, I’d have guessed the odds were worse.

Armstrong, in another incident lost to history almost died flying the lunar module simulator weeks before Apollo 11. I think that’s what Ricardo was referring to…

Ronald Brak August 28, 2012 at 6:49 pm

Rating his survival chances as 99% may have just been a way Aldrin made it easier to climb into that command module. Or maybe he was just more socially skilled than Armstrong. That is, able to lie convincingly. I’d rate the Apollo 11 trip as considerably more dangerous than the average WW2 bomber flight, but much safer than being an actual member of a bomber crew in WW2.

freethinker August 27, 2012 at 5:58 am

Bill Frank, can you please elaborate why “the configuration of the Lunar Module made it logical for the Commander to be the first one out the door.?

RR August 27, 2012 at 1:32 pm

Probably this: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/48790315/ns/technology_and_science-space/#.UDuuWNZlTYA

Fact: On Gemini missions, the co-pilot did the spacewalks, while the commander remained in the spacecraft to keep control. But the deciding factor on Apollo seems to have been that the hinge on the inward-opening lunar module door was along the right edge, which meant that when the door was first opened, the commander had a clear path to crawl backward through the low door. The second astronaut could then easily move into the unoccupied commander’s space, and repeat the door manipulation. Getting the second pilot out first, while the commander was still in his workspace, would have been tricky in the cramped cabin.

Minivet August 27, 2012 at 10:01 am

“Only” seems misplaced next to $17,000/year: by CPI, that inflates to $106,000 today, and looking at Census figures, in 1969 the 80th percentile of household income was $13,900.

Ralph Hitchens August 27, 2012 at 4:29 pm

Michael Collins, who orbited the Moon while Armstrong and Aldrin landed, discussed this briefly in his fine book, Carrying the Fire — apparently Aldrin did lobby strongly to be the first man out but Armstrong would not consider it and within NASA it was pretty much a closed issue. Collins’ perceptive comment was something to the effect that Aldrin had less appreciation for the fact that he was the second man to walk on the moon than resentment over the fact that he was not the first.

Chester White August 29, 2012 at 10:54 pm

In fact there are several, I think three, photos of Armstrong on the moon taken by Aldrin.

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