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How Luck Made Neil Armstrong the First Man on the Moon

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Neil Armstrong's official portrait. NASA

Neil Armstrong’s official portrait. NASA

We know Neil Armstrong was the first man on the Moon, but how did he end up with this coveted position? Was he chosen on account of his flying background and civilian status? Or was it the luck of the draw? 

It was the luck of the draw. But it’s actually a really interesting and surprisingly convoluted story!

Throughout the Apollo program, choosing who would fly on which mission fell to Deke Slayton. One of the original Mercury astronauts, Slayton was pulled from the flight rotation after doctors discovered atrial fibrillation, and rather than force him out of NASA he was made head of the astronaut office. In this capacity, he developed a rotation schedule: each prime crew had a backup crew, who would then be in line to serve as prime crew three missions later. So the backup crew for, say, Apollo 1, would be the prime crew for Apollo 4. So to get to how he selected Armstrong for the first landing, we have to start at the beginning with Apollo 1.

Deke Slayton shortly after joining NASA's astronaut corps. NASA

Deke Slayton shortly after joining NASA’s astronaut corps. NASA

But first, a word about the missions’ designations. All the Apollo flights were designated by a letter denoting their type, later letters being more complex missions. Leading up to the landing, they looked like this:

A mission: unmanned command-service module (CSM) only flight

B mission: unmanned lunar module (LM) only flight 

C mission: manned CSM only flight

D mission: manned CSM and LM flight 

E mission: High earth orbit CSM and LM flight to test reentry at simulated lunar speeds 

F mission: lunar landing dress rehearsal

G mission: first landing attempt

NASA planned as many of each mission type as needed before attempting the all-important G mission, so there was no guarantee that the seventh flight would be the first landing.

Slayton wanted one of the other original Mercury astronauts to command the first Apollo mission. His first choice was Al Shepard, but when Shepard was grounded with Meniere’s Disease (an inner ear problem that causes debilitating balance problems), Slayton picked Gus Grissom as commander instead. Grissom had served as commander on Gemini 3 and backup on Gemini 6A, so he was a natural choice in the rotation schedule to command Apollo 1. Rounding out the crew were two rookies, Donn Eisele as command module pilot (CMP) and Roger Chaffee as lunar module pilot (LMP). When Eisele injured his shoulder, Ed White took his place on the crew. For the backup crew, Slayton knew this crew would likely be the first to fly a lunar module and maybe even the first lunar mission. He picked Veteran Jim McDivitt, Dave Scott as CMP (who was at the time training for rendezvous on Geminin 8), and Rusty Schweickart as LMP. This first Apollo prime and backup crew began training in 1966. 

For the second mission, Slayton picked another Mercury astronaut Wally Schirra as commander, brought Eisele back as CMP, and assigned Walt Cunningham as LMP. It wasn’t a crew he intended to use on a lunar mission; Schirra was planning his retirement and Slayton intended to punt Eisele and Cunningham over to the Apollo Applications Program as soon as their mission was done. The backup crew, however, was one he designed as a good potential lunar landing crew: Frank Borman, Charlie Bassett as CMP, and Bill Anders as LMP.

The Apollo 1 prime and backup crews. Front: White, Grissom, and Chaffee. Back: Young, McDivitt, Schweikart. NASA

The Apollo 1 prime and backup crews. Front: White, Grissom, and Chaffee. Back: Young, McDivitt, Schweickart. NASA

Before potential going to the Moon, Bassett was scheduled to fly with Elliot See as the prime crew of Gemini 9. But when both astronauts were killed in a plane crash, Slayton had to change a number of crew assignments. Losing Bassett and See meant backup crew of Tom Stafford and Gene Cernan were now the prime crew with Jim Lovell and Buzz Aldrin serving as the new backup. Backup on Gemini 9 put Lovell and Aldrin in the rotation to serve as the prime crew on Gemini 12, which also put both in line for a potential early Apollo flight assignment.  

The same was true of other late Gemini crews — Neil Armstrong and Dave Scott (prime crew for Gemini 8), as well as John Young and Mike Collins (prime crew for Gemini 10), were also likely to pull early Apollo flight assignments.

Returning to our lettered missions, the first Apollo flights were shaping up like this by the end of 1966:

A mission: unmanned CSM

B mission: unmanned LM 

C mission: Apollo 1 with Grissom, White, and Chaffee (Schirra, Eisele, and Cunningham serving as backup)

D mission: Apollo 2 with McDivitt, Scott, and Schweikart (Stafford, Young, and Cernan as backup)

E mission: Apollo 3 Borman, Collins, and Anders (Pete Conrad, Dick Gordon, and C.C. Williams as backup)

F mission: likely the Apollo 2 backup since the Apollo 1 backup were unlikely to pull a lunar mission

G mission: likely the Apollo 3 backup crew

The Apollo 7 prime and backup crews. Left to right: Cernan, Young, Stafford, Cunningham, Eisele, Schirra. NASA.

The Apollo 7 prime and backup crews. Left to right: Cernan, Young, Stafford, Cunningham, Eisele, Schirra. NASA.

Then the Apollo 1 fire threw everything for a loop again. Not only was NASA dealing with the loss of a crew, but the command module also needed significant redesigns. Slayton opted to keep the crew training for the first LM mission (McDivitt’s D mission crew) training for the same flight, so brought the C mission’s backup crew (Schirra’s) to the position of prime crew. As their backup, Slayton moved up Stafford’s crew, which left McDivitt’s crew without a backup. To fill this spot, Slayton assigned a crew he thought capable of a future lunar mission: Neil Armstrong, Jim Lovell, and Buzz Aldrin. The numeric designations also changed. Now it looked something like this:

C mission: Apollo 7 with Schirra, Eisele, and Cunningham (Stafford, Young, and Cernan as backup)

D mission: Apollo 8 with McDivitt, Scott, and Schweickart (Pete Conrad, Dick Gordon, and C.C. Williams as backup)

E mission: Apollo 9 with Borman, Collins, and Anders (Armstrong, Lovell, and Aldrin serving as backup)

F mission: TBD but likely Stafford, Young, and Cernan

G mission: TBD but likely Conrad, Gordon, and Williams

Some minor issues brought more changes. In July of 1968, Collins was found to have a bone spur between two vertebrae in his neck and needed surgery. To give him time to recover, Collins was replaced by Lovell on Borman’s crew and Buzz Aldrin was promoted to CMP on Armstrong’s crew. Fred Haise was added as LMP, taking over Collins’ spot. C.C. Williams was killed in a plane crash and was replaced by Al Bean on Conrad’s crew.

C mission: Apollo 7 with Schirra, Eisele, and Cunningham (Armstrong, Aldrin, and Haise as backup)

D mission: Apollo 8 with McDivitt, Scott, and Schweickart (Conrad, Gordon, and Bean as backup)

E mission: Apollo 9 with Borman, Lovell, and Anders (Armstrong, Aldrin and Haise serving as backup)

F mission: Apollo 10 TBD but likely Stafford, Young, and Cernan

G mission: Apollo 11 TBD but likely Conrad, Gordon, and Bean

Apollo 8 prime and backup crews. Front: Armstrong, Aldrin, Haise. Back: Borman, Lovell, Anders. NASA

Apollo 8 prime and backup crews. Front: Armstrong, Aldrin, Haise. Back: Borman, Lovell, Anders. NASA

But the lunar module was falling badly behind schedule. To stay on track, NASA had to get a little creative. Instead of flying a high Earth orbital mission, it opted — pending the success of Apollo 7 — to fly to the Moon with just the command-service module. The E mission was thus cancelled and replaced with the C-prime mission. Which raised the question of who should fly it. By the rotation, it should be McDivitt’s crew since they were next in line. But McDivitt’s crew had been training for a lunar module mission and Borman’s crew had been training for the high orbit mission. It made sense to switch them around, and for consistency, to also keep the backup crews with their prime crews. 

C mission: Apollo 7 with Schirra, Eisele, and Cunningham (Stafford, Young, and Cernan as backup)

C-prime mission: Apollo 8 with Borman, Lovell, and Anders (Armstrong, Aldrin, and Haise as Backup)

D mission: Apollo 9 with McDivitt, Scott, and Schweickart (Conrad, Gordon, and Bean as backup)

F mission: Apollo 10 with Stafford, Young, and Cernan (backups TBD)

G mission: Apollo 11 now looking like Armstrong, Aldrin, and Haise

The success of Apollo 8 in December of 1968 meant it was time to name the crew of Apollo 11. Slayton had full confidence in the existing crews as per rotation — both Armstrong’s and Conrad’s — and figured since there was no guarantee that Apollo 11 would be first landing he might as well just stick to the rotation. Apollo 8’s backup became the prime crew of Apollo 11, though with one final change. Mike Collins was back to work after surgery and Slayton felt he deserved a spot on the first available mission. He was made CMP on Armstrong’s crew while Aldrin was demoted to LMP; he’d already trained for this role before Apollos 8 and 9 were switched, so it made sense. 

None of this was by design. Slayton said in his memoir that if Gus Grissom hadn’t died in the Apollo 1 fire, he would have commanded the first lunar landing mission. 

The crew of Apollo 11 was announced on January 9, 1969.

The crew of Apollo 11. Left to right: Armstrong, Collins, Aldrin. NASA

The crew of Apollo 11. Left to right: Armstrong, Collins, Aldrin. NASA

Source: Deke! by Deke Slayton and Michael Cassutt. Carrying the Fire by Mike Collins.

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Ecology

Yukon and Northern BC First Nations tackle climate change using Indigenous knowledge and science

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YUKON, June 18, 2021 /CNW/ – The Government of Canada is working together in partnership with Indigenous and Northern communities in finding solutions to adapt to the impacts of climate change in the North.

Today, Minister of Northern Affairs, Daniel Vandal, along with Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages (Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency), Larry Bagnell, highlighted progress on three unique, Indigenous-led projects that are helping communities in Yukon and Northern British Columbia adapt to the challenges posed by climate change.

The Minister and Parliamentary Secretary met virtually with Carcross/Tagish First Nation (C/TFN) to learn about their community-led climate change monitoring program. C/TFN has partnered with Tsay Keh Dene Nation (TKDN) and Chu Cho Environmental of Prince George, British Columbia, to build a community-led monitoring project that examines environmental data and Indigenous knowledge to create a holistic picture of how the climate is changing across C/TFN and TKDN traditional territories. The project combines tracking of current and historical climate trends with knowledge shared by Elders while also providing opportunities for youth mentorship and climate change awareness.

The Taku River Tlingit First Nation (TRTFN) is also leading a unique project to assess the impacts of climate change within their traditional territory. Climate change is causing many of the culturally significant ice patches to melt, exposing organic artifacts to oxygen and leading to rapid deterioration. The TRTFN ice patch mapping project will involve performing archaeological assessments to prevent the degradation of artifacts. Research will be guided by traditional knowledge, Elders and oral histories, when available, and heavily involve community, Elders, youth and Knowledge Keepers.

The Pelly Crossing Selkirk Development Corporation is leading the Selkirk Wind Resource Assessment project through the installation of a Sonic Detection and Ranging (SODAR) system. The initiative includes a feasibility study leading up to the construction of a renewable energy facility, including wind, solar and battery energy storage. Expanding clean energy within the region will have direct benefits for communities, including reduced reliance on diesel, job creation and revenue generation for Selkirk First Nation. 

These projects are delivering important environmental, social and economic benefits that lead to healthier, more sustainable and resilient communities across Yukon and Northern British Columbia. They also build community clean energy capacity and help to avoid the impacts of climate change.

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Ecology

Atlantic Provinces Ready For Aquaculture Growth

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Aquaculture is an important economic driver for rural, coastal and Indigenous communities, and Atlantic Canada is well positioned to increase aquaculture production as global demand for sustainably sourced seafood grows.

That is why the ministers responsible for aquaculture in the Atlantic provinces have agreed to the ongoing development and management of their industries based on common principles. A new memorandum of understanding has been signed by the four ministers, which extends the previous agreement signed in 2008.

“In a time when food security is especially important, it is good to see our aquaculture industry has grown steadily and is poised for continued growth in 2021 based on environmentally responsible, science-based policies and practices,” said Keith Colwell, Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture for Nova Scotia. “Our Atlantic partnership continues to help the industry grow sustainably.”

Cooperation between the provinces and the aquaculture industry has led to improvements in pest management, environmentally sustainable aquaculture methods, aquatic animal health and policies to support the shared use of marine and freshwater resources. It also aims to align regulation and policy between the provinces to make the regulatory requirements easier to understand by industry and the public.

Each province has a comprehensive and robust legislative and regulatory framework to ensure environmental sustainability, economic prosperity and public accountability. The provinces update their legislation and regulations regularly. Nova Scotia revamped its regulatory framework in 2015; New Brunswick received Royal Assent for a new Aquaculture Act in 2019 and is working on the supporting regulations; Newfoundland and Labrador completely revised its aquaculture policy in 2019; and Prince Edward Island has recently drafted a new Aquaculture Act.

The ministers have agreed to continue to use science-based evidence for management decisions, thereby increasing public and investor confidence in the Atlantic Canadian aquaculture industry.

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Ecology

COMING SOON: A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy 2.0

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We all want the same thing: a clean and responsible energy future for our children and future generations while continuing to enjoy a high standard of living.

On December 11, 2020, the Prime Minister announced a new climate plan which he claimed will help achieve Canada’s economic and environmental goals.

The proposed plan by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) entitled “A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy” will have an initial investment of $15 billion of taxpayer’s money. It is built on 5 pillars of action:

  1) Making the Places Canadians Live and Gather More Affordable by Cutting Energy Waste

2) Making Clean, Affordable Transportation and Power Available in Every Community

3) Continuing to Ensure Pollution isn’t Free and Households Get More Money Back

4) Building Canada’s Clean Industrial Advantage

5) Embracing the Power of Nature to Support Healthier Families and More Resilient Communities  

In my paper, “A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy 2.0” I will objectively critique each pillar in the government’s new climate plan and provide alternative solutions to the same issues.

  This is an alternative plan that supports workers, protects lower income earners and creates economic growth while respecting the environment and focusing on the dignity of work.

  This plan abandons virtue-signaling projects and relies on Canadian ingenuity to build our economy and restore Canada’s role of responsible leadership in the world.

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