In the Name of Apollo

The Lunar orbital flight of Apollo 8 was a smashing success! For the first time people began to understand their place in the universe. Command Module pilot of that mission, Jim Lovell said in regards to the moon’s loneliness:  “[It] made you realize just what you have here back on Earth.”

People realized the beauty and fragility of the world we live on when the crew of Apollo 8 turned their cameras to their home planet to see how it looked like from the Moon. It was an exquisite moment that expanded the consciousness of humanity forever.

Photo by:NASA
1972: The “Blue Marble” (Apollo 17)

The most renowned of all pictures taken were by the Apollo 17 astronauts. It’s “The Blue Marble” was released during a great interest in environmentalism in the 1970’s. It became its symbol, as it depicted Earth’s vulnerability and isolation in the vastness of space.

The Apollo program probably ranks as the greatest technological achievement for humankind at this juncture in history. The program stimulated many areas of technology, mainly with computers but other areas are a byproduct of the project. The technological spinoffs are many: from insulation, pocket calculators, space blankets and various freeze-dried foods.

But why call the project Apollo?  Why that name for such a stupendous project. Why not call it after the Moon Goddess, Diana. Wouldn’t naming it after a moon goddess make more sense?

It is said that the Director of Space Flight Operations, Dr. Abe Silverstein, proposed the name in 1960. What he was naming was a vague idea for a post-Mercury program involving a larger spacecraft, probably with three astronauts and capable of navigating in deep space for an extended period of time. He also proposed the name “Mercury” for the first human spaceflight program of the United States.

It is said that one evening, he was at home looking at a book on mythology and saw a picture of Apollo riding his chariot across the sun. The name was appropriate to the grand scale of the proposed program. Simply put, Silverstein in his own words said, “It was just an attractive name. People at NASA liked it and they approved it.” He said, “It was just an opinion by a senior engineer at NASA and others liked it. That’s all.”

I too thought of it as Apollo: ruler of the solar system, the Great Olympian and bringer of daylight to our world and shedding light and knowledge to our existence on Earth and in the universe. At the time as a kid I thought that project Apollo would continue to lead humankind to explore beyond the Moon. Perhaps Apollo 30 would land on Mars or Apollo 40 to flyby Venus, Apollo 50 to Jupiter and so on. Sadly, it was not to be, as the Apollo program ended at number 17 and NASA would move on to the Skylab space station program and then the Space Shuttle program, which interestingly didn’t have its own special name.

Leading up to the Moon landing, Apollo VII to X were all flights being tested in stages. The next flight, Apollo 9, which was to originally be VIII’s mission would finally get to test the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) Lander, in Earth orbit, in the spring of 1969.