How we got to the Moon

“Rules are made to be broken!” Do you live by that philosophy? Is that too harsh an edict? I don’t think so, not at all. In fact, if mankind never broke the rules, many advancements never would have been made. We never would have landed on the Moon, either. How’s that, you may ask? Read on…

Back in the late sixties, when the Apollo program had just got over the tragedy of the Apollo 1 fire when we lost those three brave astronauts, the space program was in deep trouble of not reaching the goal that JFK set in the earlier part of the decade of landing Man on the Moon before the decade was out. The investigations were dragging on as to what caused that horrendous fire, and the Apollo program was backed up with missed flights and missed deadlines. So an important decision had to be made if we were ever to land on the Moon before 1970. What does this have to do with rules? Please continue….

The first flight that was going to the Moon but wasn’t going to land was Apollo 8, manned by Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders. This flight was highly dangerous in that it was the first mission to travel to another celestial body (the Moon), and to leave Earth orbit. It actually wasn’t supposed to happen that way. The “rules” were that this flight was to test more equipment on the spacecraft, such as engines for the lander as well as the command module, but a decision was made to fore-go just the standard orbit around the Earth and to travel to the Moon. The logic was that “two birds with one stone” could be achieved, and make up for lost time as well. So the decision was made, even though it was two to three months of missed training that was so sorely needed by the astronauts. In fact, the rulebook had to be re-written, and the gamble of traveling and orbiting the Moon was huge!

But the rules were broken, to make up for lost time due to the unforeseen Apollo 1 accident. To make a long story short, because the rules were broken, and Apollo 8 went to the Moon, Apollo 11 was on target to land the first man on the Moon in the summer of 1969. The JFK goal was achieved, and the rest is history! It took a lot of courage to make that decision to orbit the Moon for Apollo 8, especially because the tide of public opinion might have changed for the worse if there were any malfunctions with the mission. The public was already grieving over the fatal accident of Apollo 1, and this might have put the final nail in the coffin for any manned missions to the Moon. So hats off to the decision makers at NASA to let the Apollo 8 mission take a stab at lunar orbit.

I’ll never forget that Christmas back in 1968, when the first pictures of our Earth was taken by those brave astronauts, and that famous picture is called “Earthrise”. One can see the Moon in the foreground, with the fragile blue Earth focused almost directly in the middle of the frame. All because the courage of taking the step (and breaking some rules!) so that we could carry out the goal of JFK. Rules have their place, and for the most part should be followed. But sometimes extraordinary measures have to be made, and if logic dictates breaking a few rules to do the momentous, then so be it!