Artemis One: A personal note

Apollo 17 on the pad: A photo I took with my Kodak Instamatic camera.


“We’re go for TLI.”

For the first time in fifty years.  Artemis 1 launches us toward TLI, Trans-Lunar Injection, the upper-stage engine burn to sent it out of low orbit.  And to the moon.  For the first time since Apollo 17, which was also a night launch.  The 30-story-tall stack, the Orion capsule atop the Space Launch System moon rocket, lights the Florida skies with a false dawn at 1:47 a.m.  Just as Apollo 17 did, although the new rocket produces 8.8 million pounds of thrust compared to 7.6 million lbs. for the Saturn V of old.  And it rises infinitely faster.

Yes, we’re go for TLI.   

I’m old enough to remember the first time those words were heard around the world, the signal for Apollo 8 to leave the safety of Earth orbit in December 1968.   That call was made by capcom Mike Collins.  Long after, he said he wished some words more stirring than an acronym for such a momentous event.

Yet to me those three letters — sound them out; shout them loud — are poetry.

Poetry too long silenced.  

I saw Apollo 17 on the pad.  I was touring the Cape — I think TWA still ran the tours — on a family vacation in September 1972.  Our guide on the bus exclaimed we were in rare luck.  They’d rolled back the Mobile Servicing Structure that usually hides the Saturn V from view, moved it just far enough we could see cleanly see the last Apollo moon rocket, there in the distance like the Washington Monument.   It was our lucky day.  We also saw the backup crew, John Young and Charlie Duke, suited up in the practice Lunar Rover.   There they went, driving to the “rock garden” at KSC.  

The last Apollo.  I remember all the flights from Alan Shepard’s first short hop in 1961.  And I saw Apollo 17 on the pad.  I feel ancient.

The last Apollo, the program killed as it reached full stride.  A premature death without closure.  That’s how it felt to me.  For how long?  Twenty years?  Until the next century? I shuttered to think.  

For how long?  Proposals and plans came and folded.  The date for any return slipped and slipped again.  Too many plans for me to remember, too many years blurring into decades.  Slipped until I thought I’d never see the likes of Apollo 17 again in my lifetime.  I stopped paying attention to all the plans that came and went.  None of it seemed real.

Not until 1:47 this morning, November 16, 2022.   

Even with only manikins aboard the Orion capsule I could hear it, the poetry spoke once more, two hours after launch.

We’re go for TLI again.

— Eunice Tiptree

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