24 October 2006

Not long ago I went along to Soho to see a one character play called Radio, by Al Smith. I enjoyed it very much, the writing was very fine and the performance by Tom Ferguson full of heart, very engaging. The story charts the boyhood of Charlie Fairbanks, born in the exact dead centre of the USA on the day they dropped the bomb on Hiroshima. He grows up in an America rapt by those twin obsessions - spaceflight and nuclear annihilation. When Vietnam kicks off, his father makes a mint selling American flags to patriots and anti-war protesters alike - the kids on campus burn the things and come back for more.
Al Smith blogs in brief about the show here, where he also writes about going to the Roundhouse to see the living legend, Al Bean. My friend Mackay had alerted me to his appearance but I was poorly at the time and couldn't go. Bean was the fourth man to walk on the Moon, as he was second out of the hatch of Apollo 12, after Pete Conrad. (I posted this about 12 last year.)
Browsing through the transcripts of Apollo 12, I found this quietly extraordinary conversation between a man on Earth and some men halfway to the Moon.
(By the way, I just remembered the spacecraft was hit by lightning as they were leaving the launch pad. But that's a whole other story. Maybe I'll write about it on the anniversary next month.)

055:39:13 Bean: Houston, Apollo 12.

055:39:16 Lind: Houston. Go.

055:39:20 Bean: Roger. Just looking through the monocular again at the Earth, and looks like it's dark everywhere except the lower left-hand corner of California. Right in there - L.A. and San Diego, and I can't see Baja California. It may be just twilight there. It's kind of hazy - not hazy, but insofar as the dark light relationship, it's kind of difficult to tell. The lower left corner of California is the only part we can see in the sunshine right now.

055:40:01 Lind: Roger. What does the weather look like out there?

055:40:10 Bean: Looks beautiful. See it real well. It doesn't appear to be any clouds - any large cloud formations near it. There's a nice crescent-shaped large weather system that appears to be several hundred miles out to sea, but I don't know if that will affect it or not. But the whole area around that southern tip of California there is nice and clear.

055:40:41 Lind: Very good.

[Very long comm break.]

Public Affairs Office - "This is Apollo control, Houston, at 55 hours, 43 minutes now into the flight of Apollo 12. We currently show an altitude for the spacecraft of 165,802 nautical miles. Velocity now reads 2,725 feet per second..."

Public Affairs Office - "At 55 hours, 46 minutes now into the flight, this is Apollo Control, Houston."

056:04:43 Bean: Houston, Apollo 12.

056:04:47 Lind: Go ahead.

056:04:53 Bean: Been looking at the Earth some more through the monocular, and I think maybe the part of the U.S. that I thought was the lower left-hand corner, the Los Angeles area, it was just about to have sunset, was really not. I don't think I could see that because of the - it's color-related to the blue of the rest of the Earth. I think maybe it was the desert area around Phoenix and around in there, just thinking about the time it is now. And I'm not able to discern at all the lower left-hand corner of the U.S., I think, because of the colors.

056:05:38 Lind: Roger. A little smog out there in L.A.? Can't see through it?

056:05:47 Bean: No. I don't think its smog. I can't see any of that area. I think it's probably just that the Earth out there has more trees, shrubs, and the like, and that makes it sort of a gray-green which is sort of like the ocean whenever you look at it from this view. And they just blend in together, and you're not able to tell exactly where one starts and one ends. We noticed that a little bit as we were closer to earth and then now as we get out this far, about all we can see is something contrasting very greatly with those blue-grays or blue-greens. In this case, it was sort of a reddish-brown [garbled]...

056:07:52 Lind: Apollo 12, Houston. [Long pause.]

056:08:24 Lind: Apollo 12, Houston. [Long pause.]

056:09:04 Bean: Hey, Houston; Apollo 12.

056:09:06 Lind: Roger. Go. We lost the very end of that transmission because we were switching antennas, but it sounds like you got a great view up there. [Pause.]

056:09:24 Lind: Apollo 12, Houston.[Long pause.]

056:09:50 Lind: Apollo 12, Houston.

056:09:54 Bean: Houston, 12.

056:09:56 Lind: Roger. We were switching antennas there. Lost the last part of that transmission, but it sounds like you got a good view out there tonight.

056:10:06 Conrad: Yes, not too bad. Hey, Don, how'd the Saints and the Oilers make out today?

056:10:13 Lind: The Oilers tied on the last play of the game. 20-20 was the final score.

056:10:19 Conrad: What was the score?

056:10:20 Lind: 20-20.

056:10:22 Conrad: 20-20, huh? How'd the Saints do? They were playing the Giants.

056:10:35 Lind: 25 to 24 for New Orleans.

056:10:40 Conrad: Roger. Thank you.

056:10:41 Lind: Very good. Hey...

056:10:42 Conrad: Got some good news?

056:10:44 Lind: Yes. Say, listen, can you see any of Antarctica from your position in the daylight?

056:10:59 Conrad: That's affirmative, Don. We can see a large portion of it, as a matter of fact. It's continually in sunlight.

056:11:08 Lind: Roger.

056:11:21 Lind: Listen, I've got some other scores for you, if you are interested.

056:11:28 Conrad: Go ahead.

056:11:29 Lind: Okay. AFL: Houston and Denver 20-20; Kansas City over New York 34-16; Boston over Cincinnati 25-14; Buffalo over Miami 28 to 3; Oakland took San Diego 21-16; in the National, as I said, New Orleans over New York 25-24; Chicago 31, Atlanta 48; Philadelphia 17, L.A. 23; Detroit took St. Louis 20 to nothing; Dallas hl, Washington 28; and L.A. over Philadelphia, 23 to 17.

056:12:20 Conrad: Roger. Thank you very much.

056:12:26 Bean: And could you give us the exact longitude the terminator is on the Moon at this time?

056:12:37 Lind: Wait 1. We'll get it for you.

[Very long comm break.]


Mackay said...


sbs said...

Cheers Mck. I've put a clickable link in the text above.

Al said...

Hey chap,

Alan Bean went into pretty good detail about getting struck by lightning on launch - said they were super-close to aborting the whole thing. There's really good chunk about it all in Andrew Chaikin's book I seem to remember. You should have been at that talk, it was really cool. He spoke with great fondness about Pete Conrad - Conrad always comes across as a great clown - I think the Right Stuff gets him pretty well. I love all that stuff about him betting some journalist a bunch of money to say some stupid line when he first set foot up there.