A Lunar Itinerary

The hilarious image of the Apollo 11 astronauts’ US Customs form, filled out upon their return to Earth through Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, has been going around the internet again; so I thought I might share one of my favorite little pieces of NASA spaceflight miscellanea: Buzz Aldrin’s travel expenses.

Upon returning to Earth from his history-making trip to the lunar surface, Buzz Aldrin filled out a travel expense voucher to get reimbursed for his “official travel.” It’s a delightfully mundane and hilarious thing, that nonetheless highlights some pretty interesting stuff about the jaw-dropping trip to the moon that he, Neil Armstrong, and Michael Collins undertook fifty-five years ago this summer.

His official itinerary is more detailed than the one provided on the customs form. Here it is in full, with some annotation. All dates are, naturally, in July of 1969:

7-7 | LV: Residence | 0445 | POV
(note: POV means “Privately Owned Vehicle.” Aldrin reported 8 miles for this leg of the journey and was reimbursed 56¢.)
7-7 | AR: EAFB | 0500
(note: EAFB is “Ellington Air Force Base” in Houston)
7-7 | LV: EAFB | 0530 | Gov. Air
7-7 | AR: Cape Kennedy, Fla. | 0800
7-16 | LV: Cape Kennedy, Fla. | 0832 | Gov. Spacecraft
(note: Saturn V serial number SA-506, of course)
7-19 | AR: Moon | 1325
7-21 | LV: Moon | 2400 | Gov. Spacecraft
(note: transfer from NASA LM-5 Eagle to NASA CSM-107 Columbia not listed)
7-24 | AR: Pacific Ocean | 0600
(note: at 13°19′N 169°9′W in the North Pacific, about 920 miles or 1480 km from Honolulu)
7-24 | LV: Pacific Ocean | 0800 | USN Hornett
(note: Aldrin misspelled the name of the US navy aircraft carrier Hornet here.)
7-26 | AR: Hawaii | 0900
(note: Pearl Harbor, to be specific)
7-26 | LV: Hawaii | 1200 | USAF Plane
(note: the particular plane was a C-141B Starlifter designated 66-7958 USAF, which I cannot find a name for.)
7-27 | AR: EAFB | 0100
7-27 | LV: EAFB | 0215 | Gov. Veh.
(note: the Government Vehicle in question was the Mobile Quarantine Facility (MQF), a converted Airstream trailer. They would stay in the MQF for three weeks. Actually, they boarded the MQF on the Hornet; it was then loaded into 66-7958 in Hawaii and unloaded in Houston.)
7-27 | AR: LRL | 0300
(note: LRL is the Lunar Receiving Laboratory, building 37 at Johnson Space Center in Houston.)
A notation beneath this itinerary reads:
Government meals and quarters furnished for all the above dates.

Aldrin also reported 100 miles of “official vicinity travel” at Cape Kennedy for the nine days between his arrival and departure, for which he was reimbursed $10. Another note reads
POV authorized for official vicinity travel at Cape Kennedy, Fla. in leiu [sic] of rental car.
I can’t find any information about what POV this is; he left his personal vehicle in Houston when he flew on a government plane to Florida, so perhaps he owned two cars?

There are three handwritten notes beneath that which I cannot read but claim $8.00 and $19.25, as well as $4.50 of charges that he subtracts from the total; these three are listed in the “subsistence” column. The grand total claimed on this voucher are $33.31 ($279.17 in 2024 dollars), and it was approved by someone named “C.W. Bird.”

I find it so fantastic that a man who went to the moon still had to deal with paperwork once he returned. What a gem was 1960s NASA. A delightful interaction between the sublime moon and the mundane Earth.

Paintings in this post are from a set of NASA images produced before the launch and originally shared in a PopSci article. Here’s some more (click each to enlarge):

Linkblog | Ars Technica: The amazing helicopter on Mars, Ingenuity, will fly no more

from the red-planet-whirlybird desk

The amazing helicopter on Mars, Ingenuity, will fly no more
Ingenuity has spent more than two hours flying above Mars since April 2021.

Well done, Ingenuity. The Martian helicopter—well, okay, it’s an Earth helicopter on Mars—flew its final mission this month, breaking one of its rotors during its 72nd out of five planned flights in the thin Martian atmosphere. The four-pound aircraft flew a total of 11 miles (17 kilometers) across the Martian landscape; by contrast, the first wheeled rover on Mars, Sojourner, only traveled about 330 feet (100 meters) before we lost contact with it.

It was originally planned to fly between 1 and 5 times; it flew 72 times. Its maximum operational duration was 30 sols (Martian days), but it made its final landing 977 sols after its first takeoff. Its design expected a maximum altitude of 12 meters (39 feet), but it doubled that expectation, traveling as high as 24 meters (79 feet). Having exceeded nearly every design parameter, I think it’s earned its rest.

The whole mission was impressive, but if you’re interested in the design of this incredible aircraft and spacecraft, you might enjoy this video from the YouTube channel Veritasium, made over a year before Ingenuity even reached Mars:

Congratulations to NASA, the JPL, and everyone who worked on this impressive piece of technology.

The Great Moon War

This innocuous-looking meme came up on a friend’s feed recently, with the caption “I need to know”:

My immediate thought was, “They aren’t, though!” The reality is so much cooler than that, and this joke actually asks a really interesting question with an even cooler answer.

Tidal Locking means that the same side of the Moon always faces the Earth.

So, first of all, yes, the moon is “tidally locked” with Earth, so only one side ever faces us (incidentally, this means that there’s no “Dark Side” of the Moon; only a “far side”). Tidal locking is going to come up later, so remember that. But the mares (MAH-rays)—the dark marks on the moon—are actually cooled lava flows, not craters.

And it’s actually the fact that meteors don’t hit the near side as often that is the reason we can still see the mares at all; there have, at one time or another, probably been such mares on all sides of the moon, but the others got pummeled into oblivion.

Ok, cool, but…what caused the lava flows that made the mares?

They were created when meteors hitting the far side of the moon made a huge enough impact to cause lunar volcanoes on the near side. (And if “lunar volcanoes” isn’t the coolest phrase you have heard this week, you live a pretty exciting life.)

Oh but wait, it gets better. Due to the way the Earth-Moon system works—that is, as mentioned before, that the moon is tidally-locked—there’s a good chance that, if the moon wasn’t there, those meteors would probably have hit Earth instead.

So the mares aren’t the remnants of the Earth-Moon war. They’re the battle scars of the moon taking bullets that were meant for us.

Thanks Moon.