|Jack Ganssle's Blog
This is Jack's outlet for thoughts about designing and programming embedded systems. It's a complement to my bi-weekly newsletter The Embedded Muse. Contact me at email@example.com. I'm an old-timer engineer who still finds the field endlessly fascinating (bio).
For novel ideas about building embedded systems (both hardware and firmware), join the 30,000+ engineers who subscribe to The Embedded Muse, a free biweekly newsletter. The Muse has no hype and no vendor PR. Click here to subscribe.
Apollo 11, The Movie
March 4, 2019
I wrote about the movie First Man last year. I didn't care for it, though the book it was based on was brilliant.
A new movie is out. Apollo 11 is all about, well, you know exactly what it's about. In July it'll be 50 years since that mission.
The movie is a documentary composed entirely of old material from NASA. It seems there was an enormous cache of previously unreleased video, which the production company trimmed down to an utterly compelling hour and a half. The only recent footage was an occasional simple graphic that showed what the spacecraft were doing at different points in the mission.
We saw the IMAX version; if you can, by all means catch it in this format. The enormous screen and Earth-rattling audio makes it a visceral experience.
Had I watched it alone I'd report that this is a movie only a techie could love, as the commentary is largely recordings of Mission Control's technical monotone, discussions on the controller's circuits, and communications with the spacecraft. There are no voice-overs, there's no narrator. There are a blizzard of acronyms, and plenty of static-distorting deep space audio. Yet Marybeth, who is an artist and doesn't know an LM from a CM, was completely blown away.
For Apollo 11 does blow you away. When those five F1 engines roar the IMAX theatre rocks and you can imagine what it would have been like to feel that launch from a few miles away. It starts off with the crawler-transporter moving to the pad, and the sound that machine makes is unforgettable. When the LM docks with the CM after returning from the lunar surface the spacecraft bang and the LM's thermal blanket rattles.
We've all seen the videos of the Saturn's first stage ascending; those films quickly get grainy as the rocket disappears into the stratosphere. Yet Apollo 11 shows that stage separating and the S-II firing up, which I had never seen before. Somehow (an amazing camera? A spy satellite?) it shows the trans-lunar injection burn, which occurred over 200 miles high. That's the reignition of the S-IVB stage to leave Earth orbit.
Marybeth was surprised and puzzled about the LM's ascent stage being thrown away. The full-up configuration on the pad weighed some 6.5 million pounds, yet all that came back was the 12,000 pound command module. The Earth's gravitational well is very deep. Even today, a half-century later, the Falcon 9 needs a million pounds of fuel to put 22,000 pounds into low-Earth orbit.
Apollo 11 highlights some still photography Armstrong and Aldrin took on the moon. These images are stunning and beautiful.
I did learn a few things. The F1 engines were covered with thermal blankets. Those in museums aren't and the tubes that blanket the nozzle are a standout feature stuck in memory. Another surprise: when Apollo was coasting to and from the moon I always assumed it was aimed in the direction of travel. Instead, it was 90 degrees from that direction, pointing "up" instead of forward. Upon reflection, that makes sense as it was in a "barbecue roll" to evenly distribute solar radiation, and the sun-Earth-moon system is more or less on a plane. If pointing in the direction of travel, the sun would be baking the service module's engine bell and the roll would have no effect.
I only wish the movie was longer.
Feel free to email me with comments.
Back to Jack's blog index page.
If you'd like to post a comment without logging in, click in the "Name" box under "Or sign up with Disqus" and click on "I'd rather post as a guest."
Recent blog postings:
- Can AI Replace Firmware - A thought: instead of writing code, is the future training AIs?
- Customer non-Support - How to tick off your customers in one easy lesson.
- Learn to Code in 3 Weeks! - Firmware is not simply about coding.
- We Shoot For The Moon - a new and interesting book about the Apollo moon program.
- On Expert Witness Work - Expert work is fascinating but can be quite the hassle.
- Married To The Team - Working in a team is a lot like marriage.
- Will We Ever Get Quantum Computers - Despite the hype, some feel quantum computing may never be practical.
- Apollo 11, The Movie - A review of a great new movie.
- Goto Considered Necessary - Edsger Dijkstra recants on his seminal paper
- GPS Will Fail - In April GPS will have its own Y2K problem. Unbelievable.
- LIDAR in Cars - Really? - Maybe there are better ideas.
- Why Did You Become an Engineer? - This is the best career ever.
- Software Process Improvement for Firmware - What goes on in an SPI audit?
- 50 Years of Ham Radio - 2019 marks 50 years of ham radio for me.
- Medical Device Lawsuits - They're on the rise, and firmware is part of the problem.
- A retrospective on 2018 - My marketing data for 2018, including web traffic and TEM information.
- Remembering Circuit Theory - Electronics is fun, and reviewing a textbook is pretty interesting.
- R vs D - Too many of us conflate research and development
- Engineer or Scientist? - Which are you? John Q. Public has a hard time telling the difference.
- A New, Low-Tech, Use for Computers - I never would have imagined this use for computers.
- NASA's Lost Software Engineering Lessons - Lessons learned, lessons lost.
- The Cost of Firmware - A Scary Story! - A hallowean story to terrify.
- A Review of First Man, the Movie - The book was great. The movie? Nope.
- A Review of The Overstory - One of the most remarkable novels I've read in a long time.
- What I Learned About Successful Consulting - Lessons learned about successful consulting.
- Low Power Mischief - Ultra-low power systems are trickier to design than most realize.
- Thoughts on Firmware Seminars - Better Firmware Faster resonates with a lot of people.
- On Evil - The Internet has brought the worst out in many.
- My Toothbrush has Modes - What! A lousy toothbrush has a UI?
- Review of SUNBURST and LUMINARY: An Apollo Memoir - A good book about the LM's code.
- Fun With Transmission Lines - Generating a step with no electronics.
- On N-Version Programming - Can we improve reliability through redundancy? Maybe not.
- On USB v. Bench Scopes - USB scopes are nice, but I'll stick with bench models.