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- VIDEO: Check out the video about the Apollo-11 trip to the Moon.
- PASSAGE: Read about Code 1202, the computer malfunction 6,000 feet above the Moon.
- ENGAGE: Explore the real-time experience of mission control and the astronauts.
- DATA: Learn a lot of interesting and strange details about the mission.
- YOUR TURN: Complete a cool homework assignment on everything you’ve learned.
Inside the Eagle, the Moon landing vehicle piloted by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, the alarm blared. Woop! Woop! Woop!
Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong were minutes from landing on the Moon, only 6,000 feet above the surface and moving fast. Aldrin looked at the console. Code 1202! Code 1202! The display alerted the astronauts inside the tight quarters of the Eagle that something was malfunctioning.
Back on earth at Mission Control, Jack Garman, the chief computer engineer, tried to make sense of the potential disaster. The crew and Garman had less than sixty seconds to decide if they would have to abort the mission.
With the Eagle hurtling toward the Moon at top speed, Garman scanned the list of the error codes as quickly as he could. There it was, “1202: Executive Overflows. Computer cannot complete all tasks in real time. Must postpone some tasks.”
What did “executive overflows” mean? The computer didn’t have enough memory or processing power to handle everything it was being asked to do. But was this a crisis? Did it put the whole mission in jeopardy? In most of the movies and articles about Apollo-11 that have come out since the first Moon walk the moment of the piercing Code 1202 alarm has been used as the ultimate dramatic apogee of the story. The alarms are blaring! A choice of life and death importance must be made this second!
This tension, this “terrifying” crisis, makes for wonderful fiction. But, in interviews with the engineers and programmers who actually worked at Mission Control, Code 1202 wasn’t a dramatic near-catastrophe at all. The computer had been programmed to drop the least important tasks if it hit its limits of memory and power. Before Garman had even looked up the meaning of the code, the computer had already begun its work of sloughing off non-essential tasks to free up memory. The computer wasn’t warning the crew of a problem– it was notifying them of its solution.
There were, in theory, terrifying risks that threatened the Apollo-11 mission. Some scientists thought there was a low, but real, possibility the astronauts could return to earth carrying a “moon plague”. The dread was that Armstrong and Aldrin would catch some unimaginable alien illness that could trigger a pandemic on earth. Other scientists were concerned that “lumpy gravity”, gravitational fields that were uneven and irregular, would cause the Eagle to crash to the Moon’s surface while it tried to land. The most ominous threat NASA scientists feared was that Moon dust might be explosive. They worried that the Eagle landing could cause the Moon’s surface to ignite, triggering the entire Moon to catch on fire.
Despite Hollywood’s fascination with the supposed “near disaster” and the dramatic re- creation of Code 1202’s blaring alerts, the three other low-probability threats: moon plagues, lumpy gravity, and flammable Moon dust, were actually more worrisome than the intentionally designed safety system of Code 1202 ever was.”
Let’s use the site to go on an Apollo-11 TREASURE HUNT. Simply follow the steps below, and see if you can do the tasks / answer the questions in the green treasure hunt boxes below.
NAVIGATE: Open the site and watch the first few minutes of the launch.
Open the Apollo-11 in Real Time Website
Choose Gold “T-Minus 1M” Option.
EXPLORE: Learn to use the search function.
Did you see the launch? Cool! Now let’s search the transcripts. You can look up any word in the 240 hours of recordings of the astronauts and Mission Control.
Try looking up something now! Not sure what to try? How about “football player“.
Click the magnifying glass, type in your search term, click (or double click) the result you want, and then click the play icon. All of these steps are shown in the screenshots below.
TREASURE HUNT: What should Astronaut Collins have for lunch?
Treasure hunt time! Use the search button and look up, “get around to lunch“.Do you know what Mission Control says is on the menu?
TREASURE HUNT: How many bowls of instant oatmeal can someone eat in 10 minutes?
Yes, Mission Control and the astronauts really did talk about the world record that was set for speed oatmeal eating. Use the search button and look up, “porridge” to read about it.The world’s fastest oatmeal eater won a porridge eating contest. How many bowls did he eat?
TREASURE HUNT: What did President Nixon predict would happen in the year 2000?
Search “in the year 2000” to see what President Nixon predicted would happen by the year 2000.What did he think would happen in 2000? Did his prediction come true? If it happened, when did it happen? If he was wrong, what year do you think it will come true?
YOUR TURN: A few fun things to look up in the transcripts:
- ‘good little jump‘ gets you to the most famous moment of the mission.
- Who found the lost shaving cream?
- What is a kangaroo hop?
- Try looking up Code 1202 and hear the real-life moment that the reading passage was all about.
- Have fun and explore your own word search ideas!
How do you teach astronauts to walk in low gravity environments before they leave the earth? Today, astronauts practice in special airplanes that fly above 24,000 feet in the air. These planes do parabolic flight maneuvers that create a low gravity environment for a minute or two. But in 1969, NASA hung the Apollo-11 astronauts sideways from wires while they practiced walking along a sloped wall.
Vocabulary time! The particle size of the Moon dust was extremely small. You could call them motes (which rhymes with musical note.)
What is a mote? A tiny, tiny speck of anything. Like a minuscule piece of glitter, or an extremely tiny speck of dust.
Have you ever seen little particles of dust hanging in the air when the sunlight shines through window in just the right way? Those are motes.
Challenge: can you use “mote” in your conversation at some point today? Your interlocutor (that means the person you are talking with) might even have to ask you what it means! Awesome!
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The Lunar Module was a feat of human engineering. A very cool project is to make your own model of the Lunar Module. Amazon has a super fun model kit to try.
Here is a fantastic documentary on the Apollo 11 mission. It came out in 2019, and has great reviews. Check it out!
Want to learn how Neil Armstrong became the first person to walk on the Moon? This biography tells the story from his first step as a toddler, to one small step for man…”
The Apollo 11 crew were tasked with performing several science experiments while on the Moon. One experiment involved examining Moon wind. Another experiment was designed to measure “Moonquakes” and seismic activity. Here is more info on all of the experiments.
Have there been other trips to the moon? Many. Here is a list of all of the publicly documented trips. Here is a cool fact most people don’t realize: the very the first time humans landed the dark side of the Moon was just a few years ago, in 2018.
Want to know more about the Lunar Module? Want to see an amazing video by one of the most talented and prolific 3D animators around? Curious about what 3D animators do? Check out this awesome video by Jared Owen.
Slider #2 with a grade level difficulty (this lesson is just right for grades…