I’ve been working on a few stories lately for my space here on The Local website, including Part Two of Sigvard Bernadotte. Since none of those are ready yet, I thought maybe you all might enjoy this vintage tale I wrote for my magazine K Composite way back in the year 2000. This article has nothing to do with Sweden, but will dutifully serve the same purpose of helping you kill time at work. Enjoy:
Everybody knows Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon, and some even know the name of the second guy, Buzz Aldrin. But can you name the other ten guys who subsequently traversed the lunar surface? This phenomenal article will share that precious information with you, as well as many other forgotten or unknown factoids of feeble humanoids and their exploits in trying to leave Earth.
The brown nose of James Irwin
James B. Irwin – or Jimmy as I like to call him – was born in 1930 in Pittsburgh. That was a long, long time ago. Jimmy lived many places and did many things. He was a real bookworm and got all kinds of BS degrees and stuff. He got really into experimental flight and fancy flying schools. Bo-o-o-ring! But no matter what he accomplished academically or as a test pilot, all his achievements would eventually totally pale in comparison to when he became one of the few humans to ever leave the planet.
Florida: more than spring break
At the age of 41, on a beautiful Florida day, the robust man of 160 pounds boarded a rocket. July 26, 1971 was the day that some chumps in work clothes strapped James inside a little soup can by the name of Apollo 15. From the “launch pad” he “blasted off” (that’s space-talk) and traveled to the moon in very, very close quarters with two other guys. I don’t mean nothin’ by that, I’m just sayin’. A man with two first names, David Scott, was the spacecraft commander. Dave was the seventh man to walk on the moon, right in front of Jimmy. They probably planned the order before they left so they wouldn’t fight about who’s getting out first all the way to the moon.
This trip to the moon was a real adventure for these young lads. But as far as the public was concerned, Apollo 15 was small potatoes. Shits and giggles, that’s all. Previous missions had delivered the goods and the public was sufficiently wowwed as a result. Namely, Apollo 11 put the first guys on the moon. Apollo 12 proved we could do it twice, like it wasn’t just luck the first time. Apollo 13… well, you’ve seen the movie about that one. They were almost lost in space, but luckily Tom Hanks bravely made oxygen out of socks and duct tape, and saved the day.
By the time Apollo 15 rolled around in the summer of ’71, the moon was a real stinker in the PR world. Nothing new.
Sucks to be James Irwin. For the rest of your life, every time somebody mentions Neil Armstrong, you earnestly pipe in with, “He’s not all that. I was the eighth man to walk on the moon!”
They would undoubtedly give you a reassuring smile and augment it with a stock sincere line like, “Heavens, I bet that was really something,” followed shortly by the inevitable rolling of the eyes and an awkward silence while turning away and shuffling off.
Where ya headed? The moon?
Alfred Worden was also on Apollo 15. Alfred was the command module pilot. A real fancy title, but if you’re an astronaut you know that “command module pilot” is just a nice way to say “the guy who drops off the other two dudes at the moon, and then flies around the moon for a while, and then picks them up again when they’re finished having fun, and has to hear them talk all the way back to Earth about how awesome it is to walk on the moon.”
Yes, that’s right. On each one of the six trips humans have taken to the moon, three guys went there and only two of them got to get out. The other poor sucker just had to circle the moon and wait to go home.
So if you think nobody cares about the fact that you were the eighth man to walk on the moon, imagine what it would be like for that old sap Alfred Worden who went all the way to the moon and had to stay in the boat.
Your daughter might come home from school one day yapping, “Hey daddy, my teacher said Neil Armstrong is a hero of humanity because he was the first man to walk on the moon!”
You would respond modestly, “Oh sweetie, that’s nice, but did you know that a few years after Neil Armstrong was on the moon, your daddy went there with the seventh and eighth men who walked on the moon.”
“Wow, daddy! I didn’t know you walked on the moon! You’re my hero!”
“No, honey. I didn’t actually walk on the moon. I just sort of dropped some people off and brought them back.”
“Gosh, daddy, it’s sort of funny that you’re a taxi driver now, because that’s what you did on the moon! Maybe when you come to Career Day you can just leave out the part about you staying in the plane.”
To add insult upon injury, they spent more time on the surface than any prior mission. Just how long did glorified chauffeur Alfred Worden sit in the command module by himself doing loops around the moon while Jimmy and Dave were cruising around in the moon buggy? Twenty or thirty minutes? Try 67 hours! Holy shit! That’s almost three whole days! I guess it’s probably still a thrill to go to the moon, but man, total buzzkill, dude.
Yuri Gagarin? Never heard of him.
Maybe you’ve heard of the Soviet Union. It was a country in Asia that used to be a really big deal, but they broke up. When they were still together, they were trying at the same time to put a man on the moon. Maybe you’ve heard of this so-called “Space Race.” Who would spike the proverbial football on the moon first? The Soviets or the Americans? Anyone? Anyone?
The engineers and scientists in the Soviet space program tried really fucking hard to get a man on the moon first. In the beginning, the commies kicked some serious ass. In 1959, the Soviets were the first to hit the moon with a probe. Nice shot. Two years later, Yuri Gagarin became the first man to orbit the Earth. Five years after that, they safely landed the first unmanned thingamabob on the lunar surface. Then in 1968, the Soviets sent the first vehicle containing life into lunar orbit and returned it safely to Earth. What was it? A dog? A monkey? No, it was turtles. That’s right. Turtles.
Things dreadfully slowed down for the Reds after that. Over the next months, it became apparent that their little stunt with the turtles wasn’t gonna to cut the mustard anymore. The Americans were steppin’ on the gas. The Soviet program was disorganized and short of cash. It had been struggling since chief designer and visionary Sergei Korolyov croaked in ’66. The sluggishness and lack of direction was no match for all the money, brains, and horn-rimmed glasses at NASA. A few months after the turtle show, the Americans flew a living person around the moon, totally facing the Soviets. “Yes! Eat our moon dust!” That’s something that might have been said at the time.
Neil, did you hear something?
Despite all the serious facializing from the capitalist pigs, the commies weren’t about to give up. They were trying anything they could. They did some world class blowin’ up of expensive hardware. Some rockets exploded during lift off, while others reached the moon, but just turned into fancy fireworks when they got there.
Interestingly, an unmanned Soviet spacecraft, Luna 15, crashed into the moon during a landing attempt while the Apollo 11 astronauts were on the surface. While the world was captivated watching Neil Armstrong and crew making history, a Soviet ship was crashing somewhere else on the moon. “Neil? Did you hear that?” “Huh?”
More than a year later, in September 1970, the unmanned jalopy called Luna 16 careened wildly toward the moon and made the first successful Soviet landing. It picked up a sampling of moon rocks and dust and brought them back. Ultimately, believe it or not, a Soviet cosmonaut never walked on the moon. They were never able to pull it off. It’s kind of sad really, if you think about it. It’s really kind of sad. Kind of sad. A little sad.
In modern times, the Russians are still having a little trouble paying for the expense of exploring space. This time around there’s no race going on, a bunch of countries got together and are building a space station, in space, of course. In July 2000, the living quarters for the International Space Station were delivered to orbit after being launched from Kazakhstan. The powerful Russian Proton rocket carrying these living quarters into space placed the unit into orbit only 15 minutes after being launched… oh yes, and it had a Pizza Hut logo on the side. This is a true story. In exchange for the princely sum of $1.25 million, a 30-foot-tall Pizza Hut logo was painted on the outside of the rocket to help the Russian space agency pay for the launch and keep their program on schedule. This isn’t a new thing for the Russians. In 1996, Pepsi paid the agency five million dollars to have cosmonauts photograph one of their soda cans floating by the Mir space station. A Japanese television reporter has even flown into space courtesy of the Russians, in exchange for “green stamps” (that’s CB jargon, it means “money”).
Ironically, NASA is prohibited from selling advertising on US spacesuits, but private companies have been involved in the US program for years. Shuttle missions regularly deliver privately operated satellites and commercial gear into orbit. Who would have guessed the Russians would be the first ones selling ad space on their rockets? I mean they used to be communists, right? I thought I said that.
Speaking of communists, the Chinese space program is coming right along, too. “What the…?! Did you say Chinese space program?” You bet I did! After completing a successful test launch and return of the unmanned Shenzhou capsule, China plans to put three people in it and send them into Earth orbit in 2001. Without the people in it, the capsule weighs less than 200 pounds! That’s less than most Americans! China is now becoming a playa in the elite club of people with ability to leave Earth. They’re also debating becoming involved in the International Space Station.
The dirty dozen
I suppose it’s about time I deliver the goods I promised at the beginning of the article. That is, the names of all twelve people who have walked on the moon. They are all white, American males. Just like Jesus. Here they are in order: Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Charles Conrad Jr., Alan Bean, Alan Shepard, Edgar D. Mitchell, David R. Scott, James B. “Jimmy” Irwin, John Young, Charles M. Duke Jr., Eugene A. Cernan, and Harrison H. Schmitt.
The Americans went there
The US silver dollar coin has a picture of the moon on the back. Curious, isn’t it? The moon isn’t part of the United States. It doesn’t belong to anybody, or maybe it belongs to everybody. So why should we have a picture of it on one of our coins?
Since the beginning of time, creatures from dinosaurs and pteridactyls to horses, chimps, and humans have all seen the moon at night. Hundreds and thousands of years have gone by in which people looked at the moon. The moon was there the night before a primitive human invented the wheel. Moses lived with the moon in the sky. The Roman Empire grew and fell under the moon. The moon was above Johannes Gutenberg the night he created the printing press. Napoleon conquered Europe, seeing the moon light his troops each night. The telephone was invented. All of these things happened with their participants having the moon in the sky as a part of their everyday lives. But until the Americans came along, nobody had ever been there. That’s why it’s not so nuts for us to have picture of the moon on one of our coins. People from our country left the Earth and walked on the moon. Nobody from anywhere else, before or since, has done this. So for all the havoc the Americans have brought on other people in the name of democracy, capitalism, oil, and fast food – and all the shame and/or pride that comes with it – we at least have this humbling, monumental achievement to our credit.
The Romans paved the roads. The Swiss made cheese with holes in it. The Americans left the planet, landed somewhere else, and came back.
The Jimmy Irwin Story: Epilogue
After returning to Earth in 1971, Jimmy Irwin got an assignment as a backup crew member for Apollo 17. That means he would do all the training and everything like a real crew member, but he would only go on the mission if one of the dudes in the real crew got sick or couldn’t go at the last minute; like maybe he forgot his in-laws were coming in town or something. He was like the understudy.
Anyway, his backup crew position didn’t last very long because he got wrapped up in a scandalous investigation and was removed from active astronaut status. Allegedly, he and some of the other Apollo 15 guys had taken some stamps and envelopes to the moon and were busted selling them back on Earth. Pretty cool racket, but the Feds caught up with it and threw the book at ’em.
Jimmy wrote a few books in all his spare time after he got canned. “To Rule the Night” is an autobiographical piece about his career as an astronaut and some loopy “spiritual revelation” he experienced while walking the moon. As a result, he made six expeditions to Turkey in search of the remains of Noah’s Ark. Turkey, indeed.
In 1991, Jimmy Irwin died at the untimely age of 61 in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors, and no matter what, he will always be the eighth man to walk on the moon.