18 thoughts on “The Complete Descent”

  1. At this point I’m getting so familiar with the landing that I can recite dialog.

    But you know, once you’ve seen big boosters come burning down through the atmosphere to slam land on a pitching deck in the middle of the ocean, quietly touching down on the moon doesn’t seem nearly so miraculous, except that they had the guts to stick their neck out and push 1960’s technology that fast and that far.

    I’m not sure which way SpaceX should go when they do it. Keep the constant, tense, back-and-forth with mission control, complete with beeps? Or should they have their usual pair of flight commentators say things like “And now Starship is headed for a spectacular landing on the moon, which unlike Earth, lacks an atmosphere and has much less gravity, so we won’t have to run the main engines nearly as hard.”

    They could have the astronauts debate the etymology of the word “nominal” on the way down, or more probably, just carry on the usual back and forth like they were a seasoned crew landing a 777 in Miami for the thousandth time. However, their flight plans are so aggressive that I’d anticipate a repeat of the tense back-and-forth, at least for the first dozen landings.

      1. Hrm…. I’ve wondered about that myself. WordReference and Webster’s dictionary pronounce it “ee” but Collins, McMillan, and Cambridge go with the long ‘i’. Oxford can’t decide and does both.

        I still haven’t figured out the etymology of “nominal”.

        mid-15c., nominalle, “pertaining to nouns,” from Latin nominalis “pertaining to a name or names”

        It’s old, still used meanings are 1) a word regarding another noun, 2) “in name only, not in reality”, such as “Nancy Pelosi is the nominal leader of the House Democrats” and 3) “a token amount”, as in “We only pay a nominal rent“.

        At some point engineers came to use it as “not far from ordinary or expected” or perhaps “normal”, but I haven’t found any references to how and when that happened.

        So if I’m heading down to the lunar surface and Buzz says something is nominal, I’d really prefer to know why we’re using that word.

        1. I presume it’s because it communicates faster than a prepositional phrase as in “xyz remains within normal limits”. You’ve saved yourself two whole words with “xyz is nominal”. Also it sounds better than norminal. Besides, if you have an astronaut by the name of Norman (aka Norman Thagard for example) it’s far less confusing….

          1. What that stack exchange thread said was pretty interesting. Once we were standardizing parts like cannon balls, lumber, nails, and such, a “so named” part is the nominal thing, such as a piece of lumber that is “a so called 2×4”. That would be “nominal” referring to something’s name, as distinguished from its particular implementation.

            But to distinguish a nominal 2×4 from other sized pieces of lumber, we set tolerances that describe how much a particular board can deviate from the nominal 2×4 and still be called a 2×4. That would be the deviation from the nominal, and better tolerances say that the deviation from nominal should be trifling. That probably (I’m guessing) birthed the phrases “deviation from nominal” or “nominal deviation”.

            At some point “nominal” picks up a meaning of trifling, small, or token, such as “a nominal fee”. So you could have a nominal deviation from the nominal 2×4. At that point you have “nominal” meaning “standard” and “nominal” referring to being within an acceptable distance of nominal, which is how aerospace uses use the term.

            The thread specifically mentioned a “nominal trajectory” as being the goal, and the trajectory in flight being “nominal”, which is within an acceptable deviation of the ideal, or nominal trajectory.

            So it all seems to make etymological and historical sense.

        1. Interviewer) I want to ask you: What is the most important thing in rocket travel?
          JJ) To me the most important thing in the rocket travel is the blast-off
          Interviewer) The blast-off.
          JJ) I always take a blast before I take off, (pause) otherwise I wouldn’t get in that thing

    1. It’s probably just a reflection of the personality of the two involved but the banter of the second lunar landing crew was an order of magnitude lighter than that of the first.

        1. Definitely, that combined with Conrad and Beans personalities makes for some great commentary on the descent.

      1. I especially liked Conrad’s first words from the surface: “Whoopie! Man, that may have been a small one for Neil, but that’s a long one for me!” (He was much shorter than Armstrong)

        Conrad was a character and a half. He once told me about he and Dick Gordon being invited to watch an Air Force Titan II test launch, just before their Gemini 11 flight. The rocket took off normally (nay, nominally, but before it got very far it exploded in a huge fireball. Conrad turned to Gordon and said, “Hey, Dick, just think! In two weeks that could be us!”

          1. Well, that raises another historical question. Considering the inherent risks, would we have put far more people into space if we were launching the ones we can’t stand instead of launching people who were incredible human beings that we admire and adore?

            Would Pence be willing to put The Squad into an unproven Dragon 2 and launch them tomorrow? I sure would. I’d even add a big button labeled “Do not press this button” just to see if they would.

            The post-flight debriefing would be epic entertainment, with AOC screaming that the toilet water wouldn’t even stay in her glass, and then adding that she realized “up” is just a social convention foisted upon us by the patriarchy to make us think men were taller than women. Tlaib would grin and say that from outer space she couldn’t see any Jews in Palestine, and Omar would comment that when she opened the window and sniffed, she could smell all the white racists who’d been in orbit before.

        1. Whoopie! Man, that may have been a small one for Neil, but that’s a long one for me!” (He was much shorter than Armstrong)

          You know, when on the ladder, the distance from the bottom of Armstrong’s boot to the surface of the Moon was exactly the same distance it was from the bottom of Conrad’s boot to the surface of the Moon.

          1. They could both have jumped from the top of the descent stage, equivalent to going off a 21-inch platform on Earth (but with a two-second freefall on the moon), but that would have screwed up the quote. “That’s one giant leap for a man, and, uh, all mankind.” Plus, everyone at NASA would have had a heart attack.

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