Space travel Copyrighted image Credit: Used with permission

MUSIC: The Creation

ARCHIVE: (from Horizon: 25 Years in Space): Apollo 11 moon landing
Okay all flight to colours, gonna go for landing, retro. Go. Light up. Go. Lights. Go. Control. Go. …go for landing. …Tranquillity base here. The Eagle has landed. Roger Tranquillity we got you on the ground…. Got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. So we’re breathing again, thanks a lot.

MICHAEL PORTILLO:
It's always interesting to see how things are made, and that applies to history as much as any other manufacture. In the case of history stage one, of course, is that we live through great events. Stage two is that they become memories affected by the spin that gets applied to them. After that they may be moulded further by books that are written, or films that are made.

The fluidity of what we experience gradually solidifies. It becomes popular memory, an official history, and crystallises as one or two paragraphs in a text book. The history of how man got to the moon has not yet set hard. In this programme I'll be looking at the epic events, distant in that they occurred a quarter of a million miles from earth, but close in the sense that many of us remember them, to see how the great race in space is being shaped, or misshaped into History.

ARCHIVE: (from Horizon: 25 Years in Space): Apollo 11 moon landing
It's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.

YURI KARASH:
I believe that Apollo 11 and Apollo programme altogether was certainly the major technological achievement of mankind which has not been surpassed up to today.

MICHAEL PORTILLO:
If you want an unbiased assessment of the Apollo 11 Moon landing then you could do worse than Yuri Karash, a Russian space policy analyst and a former Cosmonaut candidate.

YURI KARASH:
When I ask Americans who were the first men in space and they said that it was Neil Armstrong, actually I feel kind of sorry not only for Yuri Gagarin, Gherman Titov and er John Glenn who were really first men in space, but actually I feel sorry that current generation apparently does care so little about the history of the major human technological achievement which is venturing into space.

ARCHIVE: (from Horizon: 25 Years in Space):
Patrick Moore: In some ways history is rather unfair. Everybody remembers Apollo 11. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins are remembered as long as history lasts but that only a culmination of a whole series of experiments. Previously the Earth orbiter Apollo 7, Apollo 8 and other Apollo 9 and then of course Apollo 10, so all these are largely forgotten, and Apollo 8 particularly was, this was just one of the first and had Apollo 8 failed the entire course of space research would have been different.

MICHAEL PORTILLO:
Unmistakably the voice of moon-mapper and veteran television presenter Patrick Moore, and it's his assessment that provides the trajectory for this programme. We're no more likely to forget Neil Armstrong than we are Christopher Columbus, but Armstrong's steps on the moon were made possible by a sequence of extraordinary engineering feats and a number of space missions, each one of which required immense courage. And perhaps none was greater than Apollo 8, the first manned craft to escape the Earth’s gravitational pull and to orbit the Moon.

ARCHIVE: (from Horizon: 25 Years in Space): Apollo 8
…the moon rocket, the first journey made by man to the Moon and back again.

MICHAEL PORTILLO:
Many now claim it was that mission and not Armstrong’s that won the Space race for the Americans.

ARCHIVE: (from Horizon: 25 Years in Space): Apollo 8
… everybody here says ‘God speed’…

MICHAEL PORTILLO:
But if so why is that daring space voyage an event that many have forgotten to remember? We British were merely spectators at the race between the US and the Soviet Union, but some British scientists at least had a close view from the University of Manchester’s Jodrell Bank Observatory in Cheshire. A young astronomer recently arrived there in the 1960s was Ian Morison.

IAN MORISON:
At the time of the landings we were actually simultaneously observing the Apollo craft with one of our smaller telescopes, but the giant Lovell telescope here was actually tracking the Russian probes.

MICHAEL PORTILLO:
Ian’s now chief Operations Officer and was my guide on a tour of the sight, which included a journey up the tower to the mid-point of the massive Lovell telescope, which back then was trained on the moon.

IAN MORISON:
At the time of Apollo 11 the, the first American craft to land, the Eagle, in fact the Russians were attempting to soft land a craft, to scoop some soil up and bring it back to Earth and perhaps actually beat the Americans in doing so. Sadly it crashed in the Sea of Crisis. So it was really quite exciting and quite tense. We were actually observing both of these things simultaneously and trying to see who might win that particular race.

MUSIC: Katyusha

 
Nealry the victor? Brezhnev Copyrighted image Credit: Used with permission

 

MICHAEL PORTILLO:
The fact that the Russians dominated the early years of space exploration may come as a surprise to those too young to remember the technological achievements of the Soviet Union. In the 1950s and for much of the 1960s they were ahead in the Space race.

ARCHIVE: CBS news report:
That sound’s a report from man’s furthest frontier, the radio signal transmitted by the Soviet Sputnik, the first manmade satellite as it passed over New York earlier today.

ARCHIVE: BBC news report:
All Moscow is waiting to give a hero’s welcome to the world’s first spaceman, Major Gagarin of the Soviet Air Force.

MICHAEL PORTILLO:
And the Russian successes didn’t end there. Alexei Leonov was the first human being to walk in Space. In 1965 the Russians achieved another first that ought not to be wholly overshadowed by the later achievement of Neil Armstrong.

IAN MORISON:
At the very beginning of 1966 they produced the Lunar 9 craft, which made the first soft landing on the surface of the Moon and sent back the very first close up pictures of the surface, and that was a major achievement.

MICHAEL PORTILLO:
And you at Jodrell Bank were like very privileged spectators watching this match. Were you, were you cheering on either side?

IAN MORISON:
I think we were trying to be quite neutral. The Russians basically used us to prove that they were doing what they said they were doing. There, initially there was some scepticism in America that the Russians really hadn’t the capability to do the things they said they’d done, like send a spacecraft to the Moon or crash one on the surface, but we were able to show they really did do it.

MICHAEL PORTILLO:
But it was four years earlier, in 1961, that President Kennedy had taken dramatic steps to establish supremacy in Space over the Soviets.

ARCHIVE: CBS news: President Kennedy:
I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal before this decade is out of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind or more important for the long range exploration of space..

SLAVA GEROVITCH:
The Lunar race was chosen by Kennedy, because his advisors told him that this was one area where Americans actually could beat the Soviets, because the Soviets did not have the technological capacity to implement that project within the timeframe that the Americans would be able to do it.

MICHAEL PORTILLO:
Slava Gerovitch, a Russian Space historian now working in America,

SLAVA GEROVITCH:
The area was specifically chosen as one that would require complex electronics, which the Soviet industry at that time was not producing. That didn’t mean that the Soviets couldn’t catch up and develop electronic industry within few years to, to an extent that would have allowed them to be serious contenders in the race.

MICHAEL PORTILLO:
So Kennedy wasn't delivering an impossible challenge, though he was setting his sights very high. Meanwhile the Russians, according to space author David Harland, took until 1964 to make their moon shot plans.

DAVID HARLAND:
There were two programmes that they started. One was to use a fairly modest rocket to send a capsule on a loop around the moon, without going into orbit, just a loop round the back and straight back to earth. Another programme with a brand new rocket, which was to send a spacecraft equivalent to Apollo, part of which would land on the Moon with a man in it, then he would return, they’d dock in lunar orbit and the er main part of the spacecraft would return to earth. They were trying to do the circumlunar, the loop around the moon, trying to do that ahead of the Americans.

JIM LOVELL:
I heard about Kennedy’s announcement that we planned to go to the Moon before I was part of NASA. I thought to myself er he wants to do this by the end of the decade, 1970, an impossibility I thought.

MUSIC: Stars and Stripes Forever

MICHAEL PORTILLO:
Young test pilot, Jim Lovell.

JIM LOVELL:
When I got into it I saw that the people er had rallied around that concept, thousands of people, hundreds of businesses, and also there was a competition with the Soviet Union at that time as to who had the technological lead. And sometimes that’s very good because it brings out the best in everybody.

MICHAEL PORTILLO:
For Doug Millard, chief curator at London's Science Museum, talk of healthy competition and racing makes it all sound a bit too gung-ho.

DOUG MILLARD:
What these astronauts and cosmonauts went through was supremely dangerous. They were sitting on thousands of tons of high explosive, but when you then consider the hostile environment of Space, the extremes of temperature, the remoteness, there was constant danger and all the programme developers could do were minimise the risks, but the risks were always there.

MICHAEL PORTILLO:
Doug had invited me to the Museum to have a privileged look at the inside of their most prized exhibit, the command module of the Apollo 10 Moon orbiter. And the visit was made all the more special when we were joined by one of the men who'd flown missions on its sister ships, Apollos 9 and 15, astronaut David Scott.

MICHAEL PORTILLO:
Well I'm now in a very unusual position which is with David Scott leaning through the hatch door of the Apollo 10 command module, and the thing that strikes me is that we are looking at a very claustrophobic, very confined space. We’re looking at three men lying side by side in a space I would say for each person that’s less than a single bed, and then the top of the capsule is probably only about er three, three and a half feet above their noses, a very tight space. Do you have a memory of feeling claustrophobic in here?

DAVID SCOTT:
Well not actually because you get used to living inside these quarters. We spend a lot of time in our training in simulators which look exactly the same, and the crew works together as a team side by side, and we’re lying on our backs looking forward at the switches and controls on the panel in front of us and on the side.

MICHAEL PORTILLO:
They’re really above, above your faces yes?

DAVID SCOTT:
Yes above our faces and to our elbows as well, and the reason being we have to be able to reach all of the critical controls, switches and dials from a single position strapped in during launch and during re-entry.

MICHAEL PORTILLO:
Looking in here helps me to remember the era we’re talking about, because we’re not looking at a whole lot of digital readouts, we’re not looking at computer screens, we’re looking at basically a whole lot of metal switches which, you know, presumably have an on and an off position. I mean this is 60s’ technology that took us to the moon and back.

DAVID SCOTT:
Yes indeed it is and the switches were mechanical, we also had circuit breakers and certain knobs you could twist, but we did not have all the push buttons you have on a computer these days, although we did have a small computer that did have some buttons on it and it was very efficient. However as you point out it was 60s’ technology, in fact the onboard computer on Apollo, which was designed to bring us back from the Moon if we lost communications with Mission Control, had a total memory capacity of only thirty-six thousand words, or bits, so it was thirty-six k less than your mobile phone, but it did a great job.

SLAVA GEROVITCH:
The Apollo guidance computer was the first computer to use integrated circuits. On the Soviet scale there was nothing that could have matched that, but the Soviets tried to make up for that by employing maybe simpler technologies that would have still allowed them to perform a mission, maybe not so spectacularly as the Americans but still perform it and still accomplish the Lunar landing and the circumlunar flight.

 

 

 
Michael Portillo Copyrighted image Credit: Used with permission

ARCHIVE: CBS news:
We interrupt this programme for a special CBS news report. Astronauts Virgil I Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee were killed tonight in a flash fire during tests of the Apollo Saturn 204 vehicle at Cape Kennedy Air Force base.

 

MUSIC: Russian Funeral

MICHAEL PORTILLO:
1967 was a bad year for both sides in the Space Race. Shortly after the Apollo disaster Vladimir Komarov died when the landing chute on the Soviet's new Soyuz craft failed to open properly. For more than a year neither side dared to put another man in Space, but the lack of public activity masked feverish work out of sight. By that stage NASA had an extended workforce of some 400,000.And that didn't include the spies.

READING
"Top Secret:- controlled dissemination. “National Intelligence Estimate - 2nd March 1967. The Soviet Space Programme. ...Considering the Soviet technical capabilities...we estimate that the earliest the Soviets could attempt a manned lunar landing would be mid-to-late 1969."

MICHAEL PORTILLO:
It went on…

READING
“The Soviets will probably attempt a manned circumlunar flight during the next few years. ...it is conceivable that they would accept the high risks involved in making the attempt as an anniversary spectacular in late 1967.

MICHAEL PORTILLO:
Komarov’s death in April had put paid to that - and a year earlier the Soviets had been dealt another severe blow when their great rocket designer Sergei Koralyev had died during a surgical procedure. But the construction of his massive N1 rocket, which was to power their own lunar landing craft, had gone on apace. It was dragged out onto the launch pad in May 1968. A provocation? Meanwhile the Americans were increasingly confident about their own moon rocket, the Saturn Five. David Harland.

DAVID HARLAND:
They tested the first Saturn Five with all of the pieces live and it worked perfectly. No one was on it, it was an unmanned test. They tested it again in April 1968 and again it, it worked, so they cancelled further unmanned tests and decided to launch a crew on the next one, which they scheduled for December. At that point in early 1968 it was intended that the entire Apollo spacecraft would be on top of this rocket, it would go into earth orbit, er they would test two parts of the spacecraft, the mother ship and the lunar lander, test them in earth orbit.

JIM LOVELL:
But of course things always change, the best laid plans sometimes don’t work.

MICHAEL PORTILLO:
And few people were affected more by the changes than Captain Jim Lovell.

JIM LOVELL:
What happened was aircraft came to NASA and said there was no way that we could get this vehicle completed for a flight in 1968 to test it out around the Moon. And the second piece of information we had was from the er CIA that the Soviets were going to put a man around the Moon in the late Fall of 1968, and we know now of course years later that they were very serious about this, using the proton rocket and the Zond spacecraft.

YURI KARASH:
Zond 5 was actually the first spacecraft to deliver living species to Moon orbit and to return them safely to Earth. These were turtles and they survived the flight.

MICHAEL PORTILLO:
Yuri Karash with yet another Soviet first. But Zond 6 had crash-landed. The cosmonaut Alexei Leonov begged the Soviet authorities for permission to try a circumlunar flight ahead of the Americans, but he was refused.

YURI KARASH:
Imagine if any of the Soviet cosmonauts did die on the way to the Moon. This could deliver a really serious blow to the Soviet prestige as the world’s first space power.

JIM LOVELL:
In this country bold leadership said that since the lunar module was not ready for an Earth orbital testing why not send just the command module to the moon to test its navigation system and to look for suitable landing sites prior to actually sending people to land on the moon.

DAVID HARLAND:
They decided that in August, er tenth of August, and they made a contingent upon a successful first flight, but the Apollo mother ship had not actually flown with a crew. That was done in October of 1968. When they came back it was decided yes we will go to the Moon.

SLAVA GEROVITCH:
It was a very risky mission as you know, the Soviets never dreamed of sending a manned mission with a profile that had not been tried before in the unmanned mode.

DAVID HARLAND:
To say that there was trepidation before Apollo 8 is only half of the story, there was tremendous excitement and a great desire to do this. NASA was a young, lean, very enthusiastic organization with a very well defined mandate. It took enormous risks, and they were enormous, but they were calculated risks. NASA today wouldn’t do this kind of thing. It’s a very risk averse culture now.

DAVID SCOTT:
The only question was whether the large rocket engine on the command and service module would actually fire at the proper time. Again it had been tested so thoroughly, the reliability was close to a hundred percent, and that’s why the decision was made to go into lunar orbit and come back out, because the community, all four hundred thousand people, had confidence that they had done the proper design, engineering test, check out, all the preparations were so thorough.

ARCHIVE: (from Horizon: 25 Years in Space): Apollo 8 lift-off
The engines are on, four, three, two, one, zero. We have commenced, we have lift off.

MICHAEL PORTILLO:
At 07.51 on the 21st of December 1968 Apollo 8, commanded by Frank Boorman with William Anders and Command Module Pilot Jim Lovell, rose into the air.I’d just entered the sixth form of my school, but that Christmas my thoughts weren’t on A Levels. With millions of others I was gazing at the moon struggling to believe that three men were circling it, over-flying the moon’s far side that we could never see from earth.

ARCHIVE: (from Horizon: 25 Years in Space): Apollo 8 lift-off
And the thrust looks good, all engines all started to show the second stage is burning perfectly, two minutes fifty-one seconds into the mission.

MICHAEL PORTILLO:
Jim Lovell was piloting the craft now flying at 25,000 miles an hour.

JIM LOVELL:
The planning prior to the first flight was fantastic. We intercepted the moon much like, you know, shooting a duck. You, you fire ahead of it and we got just within sixty miles of the lunar surface and then when we fired our engine to slow down and the moon then captured us to become a satellite of the moon, quite an amazing feat and we were very, very happy that everything worked successfully.

MICHAEL PORTILLO:
And you were doing that I think when you were out of contact with earth because the moon was between you and the earth?

JIM LOVELL:
That’s right, round the far side of the moon we’d lose communication and so the critical manoeuvres using the engine were always done on the far side, the one of course to slow down and be captured by the moon and then the very critical one of letting the engine to get enough velocity to leave the confines of the moon, all had to be done on the, on the far side.

MICHAEL PORTILLO:
And this really was a first. Never before in human history had three men been unable to see planet earth. Astronauts are a stoic breed, but even David Scott back on earth appreciated that this was a tense moment.

 

 
Space travel Copyrighted image Credit: Used with permission

DAVID SCOTT:
I happened to be at Frank Boorman’s home that night, he was the commander, because I knew Frank quite well, and a number of us gathered with his wife Susan waiting for the call when they came around the other side of the moon at the right time. Everybody had confidence, but again it was one of those things where you don’t know the answer until you get the answer. It’s always a challenge to sit and think well let’s hope that one single engine lights as it’s supposed to light, a lot of hand holding.

 

ARCHIVE: (from Horizon: 25 Years in Space): Apollo 8 Special
“This is Apollo 8 coming into the light of the Moon. I think that each one of us carries his own impressions of what he’s seen today.”
James Burke: Well, Patrick Moore, what did you think of that?
Patrick Moore: Quite incredible, there have been suggestions I know that this is a mere publicity stunt. This is part of scientific history James, this is a part of our heritage and it would be criminal not to broadcast it as fully as, fully as we can.
James Burke: Yes I see…

ARCHIVE: (from Horizon: 25 Years in Space)
Patrick Moore: This was outstandingly important. Had this failed the entire programme would have been put back, so Apollo 8 was all-important. And I remember you know when they were on the, on the far side of the moon and I was on the air doing a live concept for the BBC, and I said something like this, the men of Apollo 8 are now going on the moon on the far side, we can’t see them obviously, we can’t hear them. I will say no more now, we will wait, in less than a minute you’ll hear the voices of the first men around the Moon and this is one of the great moments in human history. And the BBC changed over to Jackanory!

ARCHIVE: (from Horizon: 25 Years in Space): from Apollo 8
It’s now approaching lunar sunrise and er for all the people back on earth the crew of Apollo 8 has a message that we would like to send to you. In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth, and the earth was without form and void

MUSIC - Creation

…and darkness was upon the face of the deep, and God said let there be light.

JIM LOVELL:
One of the most impressive sights that we saw as we orbited the moon for the very first time and came around on the near side again, we saw the earth rising out of the lunar horizon. The oceans of course are blue, you can see the tans and the pinks, the salmons and the brown colours of the land masses of the earth, you see the clouds, the whites of the clouds, but you don’t see any colour on the moon at all, it’s all shades of grey and it was a very impressive sight.

ARCHIVE: (from Horizon: 25 Years in Space): from Apollo 8
God saw that it was good.

JIM LOVELL:
I think all test pilots, which I was, I was one, are not really emotional, but I mean there was a certain amount of emotion when you, when you go for the very first time and leave the confines of your home planet and be captured by another body.

ARCHIVE: (from Horizon: 25 Years in Space): from Apollo 8
And from the crew of Apollo 8 we close with goodnight, good luck, a Merry Christmas and God bless all of you, all of you on the good earth.

JIM LOVELL:
When we finally successfully fired the engine to leave the Moon and go back to the Earth and as we got communications again with mission control I said please be informed there is a Santa Claus.

YURI KARASH:
The feeling among the cosmonauts and Soviet Space engineers was that the moon race um had been pretty much lost to Americans.

DAVID HARLAND:
The Soviets continued to test their circumlunar spacecraft, but cancelled all of the ideas of flying a man around the moon because there was no propaganda value in that activity, that mission anymore. They continued their programme to land a man on the Moon in 1969. They tested their very large N1 moon rocket in February. It exploded. They tested it again on the 3rd of July 1969. It exploded, and two weeks later Apollo 11 landed on the Moon.

MICHAEL PORTILLO:
So how after so many space firsts had the Soviets allowed themselves to be so comprehensively beaten? Slava Gerovitch again.

SLAVA GEROVITCH:
The planning although the Soviet system was proclaimed to be centrally planned in reality it was managed through personal lobbying, through personal connections. The Soviets wanted to maintain the appearance of being the leaders in the race, so they diverted part of the resources from the lunar race to those spectacular missions. There was the Voskhod mission in 1964 with three cosmonauts packed into a single spacecraft, the space walk in 1965. All those missions, all very important and technologically sophisticated, were in fact diversions from the lunar programme, and although it helped the Soviet leaders maintain the appearance that the Soviets were ahead in the space race it actually threw the Soviets back. So as to sum up one might say that the success of the Apollo programme if anything proved the efficiency of the socialist method of management, of centralised planning over this free market, disorganized, chaotic organisation which we had on the Soviet side.

MICHAEL PORTILLO:
So much for capitalism. And only a few years later so much for the Apollo programme.

DAVID HARLAND:
The most unbelievable thing in the last century was that the Americans would go to the Moon and then stop. If the Russians had been still trying and had succeeded by about 1972 the Americans may have continued. They may have given up simply because the Russians didn’t manage to catch them up.

MICHAEL PORTILLO:
Ian, at the end of our tour we’re now standing directly under the two hundred and fifty foot dish of the Lovell radio telescope. This enabled you in the 60s to have an unrivalled view of the Space programme. What would your assessment of Apollo 8 be?

IAN MORISON:
Apollo 8 was probably the point where I think the Americans had in effect won the space race. The Russians were still hoping to get a man to the moon, and they still had some quite major achievements to come. One thing I do remember seeing were the television pictures that came back from Lunar Cod 1, or Lunar 17, that was the first lander with a rover that actually drove ten kilometers across the lunar surface, so the Russians were still in there but I think from Apollo 8 onwards one could say the Americans had won.

MICHAEL PORTILLO:
In the programmes in this series I’m looking at events that already have an established historical imprint that’s often very difficult to amend. There’s no question that Apollo 11 was the most memorable event in space exploration and remains so.

But people like Doug Millard and David Harland think it would be wrong if it were allowed totally to eclipse Apollo 8.

DAVID HARLAND:
It was Apollo 8 that really won the first lap on the race that set the pace.

DOUG MILLARD:
It’s the first time that human beings left planet Earth, left orbit, and actually went to another world.

SLAVA GEROVITCH:
After the success of Apollo 8 the moon race had been pretty much lost to Americans.

JIM LOVELL:
Apollo 8 being the very first flight to the Moon and the first time man had been on the far side of the Moon, to have seen the far side, to see the Earth as it really is and to bring back the memorable impressions which you saw was really the highlight of my space career.

ARCHIVE: (from Horizon: 25 Years in Space): from Apollo 8
This is Apollo 8 coming to you live from the moon. I think that each one of us carries his own impressions of what he’s seen today.

Further Reading
Andrew Chaikin
A Man on the Moon: the Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts (Penguin, 1995)
The Americans reach for the stars