National Geographic : 1969 Dec
III: The Flight of Apollo 11: By KENNETH F. WEAVER, Assistant Editor TWO THOUSAND FEET above the Sea of Tranquillity, the little silver, black, and gold space bug named Eagle braked itself with a tail of flame as it plunged toward the face of the moon. The two men inside standing like the motorman in a 19th-century trolley car-strained to see their goal. Guided by numbers from their computer, they sighted through a grid on one triangular window. Suddenly they spotted the onrushing tar get. What they saw set the adrenalin pump ing and the blood racing. Instead of the level, obstacle-free plain called for in the Apollo 11 flight plan, they were aimed for a sharply etched crater, 600 feet across and surrounded by heavy boulders. For Astronaut Neil Armstrong, at the con trols of the frail, spidery craft, a crisis in flight was nothing new. In 1966 he had sub dued the wildly gyrating Gemini 8 when one of its thrusters stuck. More recently, he had ejected safely from the "flying bedstead," a 752 jet-powered lunar-landing training vehicle, just before it crashed. Now he would need all the coolness and skill acquired during 500 earthbound hours in simulators and during years test-flying the X-15 and other experi mental aircraft for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The problem was not completely unex pected. Shortly after Armstrong and his com panion, Edwin (Buzz) Aldrin, had begun their powered dive for the lunar surface ten min utes earlier, they had checked against land marks such as crater Maskelyne (below) and discovered that they were going to land some distance beyond their intended target. And there were other complications. Com munications with earth had been blacking out at intervals. These failures had height ened an already palpable tension in the con trol room in Houston. This unprecedented landing was the trickiest, most dangerous part of the flight. Without information and help from the ground, Eagle might have to abandon its attempt. EKTACHROME.NASA;OVERLAYBYGEOGRAPHICART DIVISION N.G.S.