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[Round 9] Commander Nicholotti as Major Donald K 'Deke' Slayt


Alleran Tan
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((Earth, July 1969))

::It wasn't' until 10 splashed down that everyone's attention turned to 11 as the first possible manned lunar landing, but NASA had been working with that understanding since the beginning of the year. The astronauts that were in the rotation for the mission, Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin, and Michael Collins, had been spending quite a bit of time in the lunar simulators. This, as it turned out, made for quite the traffic jam since 9 and 10 had the priority. Still, they got it done.::

::With the growing attention, starting way back in the winter of 1968, the training cycle became anything but smooth. First off, when 11 started to look like the first actual lunar landing, people began asking the question of who would walk on the moon. Up until November of that year, no one really considered the idea that both occupants of the lunar lander would actually get out together.::

::Way back in 1965, in preparation for the moon landings, scientists began working on a package that was known as ALSEP, which was designed to be set up on the moon and left there. Most of the higher ups at NASA were pushing for the deployment of one of these on the first moon landing, so some of the astronauts started to train with it. They quickly discovered that it wasn't possible to set it up alone.::

::This meant that two guys would need to do the EVA on the moons surface.::

::All of the sudden, the question was no longer who got to walk on the moon, but who would be going first. On previous Gemini missions, the pilot had always been the one to execute the EVAs, and the early paperwork for 11 showed the same thing. The big problem with that, however, was the fact that while Gemini capsules had two, equally working hatches where the astronauts could egress, the lunar module only had one.::

::By the beginning of 1969, the paperwork changed and the plan was to have the commander of the mission depart the lander first. That meant that Neil Armstrong would be the first man to step foot on the moon.::

::It was at this point that Buzz's father, Gene senior, got involved. He was one of those aviation pioneers; he knew Orville Wright and Charles Linburgh, and he just couldn't leave well enough alone. While he had been there since Buzz had joined NASA trying to pull strings and get him the best missions, he stepped up his game now and demanded to know why a civilian was going to be the first man on the moon.::

::Only one outburst occurred between Neil and Buzz over the situation, and Buzz ended up taking it all the way up the chain of command. Eventually, the question was bounced back to the astronaut office, where I told Buzz that it was going to be Neil based on seniority. Armstrong had joined NASA a year before Aldrin, which gave him first choice. Of course, had Grissom been around, I know that it would have been him that would have taken that first step.::

::Of course, the situation didn't only come down to the question of seniority. There was a technical reason behind it as well. The lunar lander, as mentioned before, only had a single egress hatch, and the way it opened made it easier for the guy on the left, the commander, to get out first. Otherwise, you'd have two guys in bulky pressure suits doing some kind of god[...] dance inside the lunar module.::

::So, as if we didn't have enough to worry about, a few hours got expended on that issue. It was resolved, however, before 10 flew.::

::I can't say I saw too many other outbursts between Buzz and Neil. Given the incredible stress they were under, they held up pretty well. In a lot of ways, Mike Collins had it tougher; his training pretty much required him to be alone. If something went wrong, he didn't have anyone else to blame or complain to.::

::Then of course there was the lunar germ problem. Some scientists worried that the astronauts would be infected with some kind of space virus. Suppose it got loose? Naturally, the scientists had to come up with some kind of isolation for the crew once they returned to Earth. They wanted the astronauts to remain in the command module, but there was a problem with that plan. The module made a great space craft, but it was a lousy boat. It usually tipped over on landing due to its higher center of gravity. This was guaranteed to make the astronauts sick, if they weren't already having issues bobbing around on the ocean after being in space for a week or more.::

::So, a new plan was devised. Douse the hatch in disinfectant, toss the crew three biological isolation suits, and then get them out. Of course, this left scientists wondering if opening the hatch would release the virus into the atmosphere, so the plan was then to make the pressure inside the craft lower than normal air pressure. Thus, bugs, and air, would flow in rather than out.::

::Finally, it came time to name the crafts that would take these three men on the journey to the moon and back. The chief PR guy, Julian Scheer, made it known that the names should be 'dignified'. Though some of the astronauts had been playful in naming their ships, Buzz, Neil, and Mike knew that this mission was going to be quite historic. After some work, and a suggestion from Scheer, the command module became known as Columbia as a symbol of the United States as well as a tip of the hat to Jules Verne, who had written in 1860 about a spacecraft named Columbiad which was blasted to the moon from Florida. The name seemed to fit.::

::The lunar module was going to be the Eagle. Jim Lovell had suggested it, and it was such a good idea that it became the figure on their crew patch as well.::

::On June 12th, we were scheduled for a flight readiness review for 11. It was basically a conference call between all the major components of the system; Houston flight control, Marshall space flight center, and the Cape. It was here that a proposed launch date, dictated by our requirements to have the proper lighting at the landing sight, was set for June 16th, 1969.::

::There were concerns that the crew wouldn't be ready in time, but Neil declined more time stating that they would be ready by mid-July. I was prepared to take him at his word, so the launch was set. We would execute the mission at 9:32 AM EST on July 16th using the sixth Saturn V and command service module 107; Eagle, lunar module number five, would land on July 20th in the Sea of Tranquility. A few hours later, two men from Earth would walk on the moon.::

::Now that the date and time was set, and people began to realize that we were actually going to do this, lots of other things came up. For one, no matter how isolated we tried to keep the astronauts, they were still getting calls from long lost relatives. Everyone and their brother wanted to be at the launch; from senators and dignitaries, to family members and self proclaimed 'space nuts'. The President even wanted to eat dinner with the astronauts the night before the launch, but concerns of infectious illnesses ended this proposal right away.::

::The final medical checks were done on Friday, July 11th. Each of the astronauts were cleared, and a final press conference was scheduled for the following Monday. Sunday, however, we woke up to a surprise.::

::It seemed that the Russians weren't content with just sitting by. That morning, we all woke up to find out that they had launched a craft towards the moon. It was called Luna 15, and it was scheduled to go into orbit on the 16th. Naturally, we were concerned that it might get in the way and run into 11 as it too orbited the moon.::

::I think it was pretty desperate for the Russians to try something like this during this particular week. I didn't know then just how desperate they were for some kind of space spectacle. Their manned lunar orbit program was on hold, and it was due to be cancelled at the end of the year if nothing new occurred. They were making one last attempt at claiming their title of 'winner' in the space race.::

::On July 4th, they had tried for the second time to launch their big N-1 booster. This one had failed worse than the first one, blowing up a few feet off the pad and effectively destroying not only itself, but the entire launch complex as well. Even before the accident, the Russian program didn't really have a chance of beating us.::

::Unless, of course, something happened to Apollo 11.::

::As it turned out, Frank Borman had just returned from Russia that weekend. He had been invited by the Soviets as an ambassador from the United States. Because of this experience, Chris Kraft, the lead flight director at Houston, got a hold of him and asked him to look into the Luna 15 problem. After some back and forth with the Russian space agency, Borman was able to confirm that the craft would not come anywhere close to 11.::

::What was significant about all this is the fact that it was one of the fastest exchanges between the two space programs. I think it was the first real step towards the Apollo-Soyuz project that was to come.::

::The morning of the launch was like any other launch morning. I knocked on the doors and woke the astronauts up. We ate breakfast and they all got suited up. Nobody ever talks about the work during this time, but it was easy to see that they were all anxious to get moving.::

::There was something like a quarter of a million people scattered on the beaches, not to mention a few thousand at the press site. The VIPs included LBJ and George Mueller outside, and the likes of Wernher von Braun inside. I mostly plugged in and tried to keep out of the way.::

::More than any other flight before, things seemed to go smoothly, as if everybody had been pointed at this one moment. Right on time, at 9:32 in the morning, the big Saturn lit up. Like always, it seemed to take forever to get off the ground. But then it just rumbled off into the sky leaving behind silence and anticipation, the likes of which had not been known on such a large scale before. The entire world was holding its breath waiting to see if we would succeed.::

Donald K 'Deke' Slayton

Astronaut

United States of America

as simmed by Lt. Commander Kalianna Nicholotti

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