Friday, November 22, 2013

Apollo module pilot: perfect job for introverts




"What is the furthest one human being has ever been from every other living person?"

This was a question asked on What If...XKCD recently.  There was a good response: One of the six Apollo command module pilots.

The Apollo missions required that one of the three astronauts remain in the command capsule as it orbited the Moon.  Did it make any of the lonely?  Hard to say, but here's what Apollo 11's Mike Collins had to say about it:


"Far from feeling lonely or abandoned, I feel very much a part of what is taking place on the lunar surface ... I don't mean to deny a feeling of solitude. It is there, reinforced by the fact that radio contact with the Earth abruptly cuts off at the instant I disappear behind the moon.
I am alone now, truly alone, and absolutely isolated from any known life. I am it. If a count were taken, the score would be three billion plus two over on the other side of the moon, and one plus God knows what on this side."

This appeals to me on several levels, but I must admit to a strong sense of uneasiness for several reasons.

I think that the reality of my situation would get to me as I sat there by myself in the module.  I would be inside an arguably thin case of aluminum, traveling through an almost perfect vacuum while being hundreds of thousands of miles away from Earth.  If even just one thing went wrong with the mechanical infrastructure...well, that would be it.  No hope of repair.  Even less chance of a rescue (that being zero.)

On the other hand, I can only imagine what an utterly unrestricted view of space must look like on the far side of the Moon.  No atmosphere, very little light pollution...one could see the vastness of the cosmos on all its glory and even what is the protoplast of the universe.  Surely no picture can do it justice.

As for the sense of distance, think about this: Mars is even further.  If humanity should ever get off of its collective duff...and that's a big "if"...and travel to Mars or other planets, would we ever lose this sense?  As someone once said, I suppose there is "nothing routine about spaceflight." 

I know the risks.  Even with them in mind, I can't seem to resist knowing just once the sensation of being thousands...perhaps even millions...of miles away from all the people and garbage on Earth that I find so intolerable.  That and yes, the quiet and solitude appeal to me.  As Al Worden, pilot for Apollo 15 so insightfully put it:

"There's a thing about being alone and there's a thing about being lonely, and they're two different things. I was alone but I was not lonely...On the backside of the Moon, I didn't even have to talk to Houston and that was the best part of the flight."

Amen, brother.  You get it.




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