Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Q: Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down? A: Often, near Samoa

We are all familiar with the dramatic scenes of the fiery takeoffs of US space vehicles. We are arguably somewhat less familiar with the landings, though I'd wager many of us have seen a space shuttle landing on television.

And before that? Those of us of a certain age can probably remember both ends of the launch cycle very well. When we were kids, before these things became routine, they were broadcast live on the major television networks (nowadays, only on CNN and the like). In fact, teachers would wheel a portable television into classrooms so that students could watch history being made. Again, the blastoff was probably the main attraction.

And the landings? From the Mercury through the Apollo program, they took place on water, giving rise to the term, "splashdown." For a variety of complicated, partly contingent reasons, the USSR always opted for recovery of its space vehicles on land, whereas the US chose water landings.

So here are some philatelic artifacts of the Apollo program.

The splashdown of Apollo 11, like other Apollo landings, took place in the Pacific Ocean, most near American Samoa. This stamp from Western Samoa commemorates the moon landings. (The depiction of the space suit is not accurate.) [kickstarter project to restore and display Neil Armstrong's space suit]

Another Western Samoa stamp with the same image but a higher denomination is used on this commemorative cover marking the safe return of Apollo 16, the second-to-last manned moon mission.

For those of you not around at the time, here's what these splashdowns looked like:

As for the title of this post? It, too, is a historical artifact:
  • (a) either something someone of a certain age knows and fondly recalls, or
  • (b) something one picked up while exploring retro culture, or
  • (c) something one does not know but really should.
It's a great satirical song by the great Tom Lehrer, bitterly poking fun at Wernher von Braun. Again, those of us of a certain age remember the latter as a perennial talking head whenever the US space program was in the news (including Walt Disney productions, before my time). Snapped up at the end of World War II by "Operation Paperclip," in which the US sought to grab German rocket scientists before the Soviets could do so, von Braun went from designing Nazi V-2 rockets used in terror attacks against London to becoming the father of the US space program without skipping a beat. Hence this little ditty. And so, without further ado:

[restored video]

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