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Conrad on the left (via NASA)

The Astronaut Whose First Words on the Moon Were a Joke

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Conrad on the left (via NASA)

If Apollo 12's crew were nervous, they certainly didn't let it show. Commander Pete Conrad and Lunar Module Pilot Alan Bean spent a pretty good chunk of their seven and a half cumulative hours on the lunar surface cracking jokes and having a good time. Here's a typical excerpt from their mission transcript:

Conrad: Okay, very good. "(Photograph) contingency sample area" I got. "Deploy the color chart (on an undisturbed surface)" Ho ho. Take your time, Al. (Pause) Hey, I'm learning to do it. (Pause)

Bean: (Pete belches) Houston, how does the LM look? I'm getting ready to go out the front door.

Conrad: Dum dee dum dum. (Pause) Whoops. No way I'm gonna...I wonder if I can get in the bottom of this crater hole?
...
Conrad: Dee dum dee dum. I feel like Bugs Bunny. (Pause; Giggles) (Pause)

Perhaps this is because they knew they wouldn't sink into the moon's unknown, powdery surface like quicksand, which was a real concern raised by astrophysicist and NASA consultant Dr. Tommy Gold leading up to the Apollo 11 mission. He based this theory on radio observations of the moon and passed it along to anyone who would listen, including Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.

Gold was widely mocked, but this thought was no doubt lingering in the back of the astronauts' minds as their lunar module touched down. The craft didn't disappear into the moon's surface, of course, and Armstrong was able to take his famous first step and utter those immortal words, "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind." (Armstrong insists he included "a," although it was dropped from recordings in transmission.) This downright profound statement—which he says was not planned—put the entire enterprise into focus. It also worked as a setup for Pete Conrad's first words on the moon, which, naturally, were a joke.

Pete Conrad was a Princeton educated aeronautical engineer, Navy test pilot, and all-around character. Leading up to the mission, Oriana Fallaci, an Italian journalist, said she thought the government told the astronauts what to say while on the moon. To prove this wasn't the case, Conrad told her exactly what he was going to say—and bet her five hundred bucks to prove that he was going to say it.

So when Conrad stepped from the lunar module and onto the pad to become the third man ever to walk on the moon, he made good on his promise and said those first words: "Whoopie! Man, that may have been a small one for Neil, but that's a long one for me."

Conrad was only 5'6", so his wager-winning statement also proved to be the first bit of extraterrestrial self-deprecation in human history. (A detailed account of the bet is featured in Andrew Chaikin's A Man on the Moon.)

According to Conrad, he never got paid that $500. Something tells us the story's worth far more than that.

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NASA / SwRI / MSSS / Gerald Eichstädt / Seán Doran © PUBLIC DOMAIN
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Space
Here's the Closest View of Jupiter's Great Red Spot That Humans Have Ever Seen
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NASA / SwRI / MSSS / Gerald Eichstädt / Seán Doran © PUBLIC DOMAIN

NASA's Juno spacecraft completed perijove 7 yesterday, flying nearest to Jupiter in its 53-day orbit and collecting intimate science a mere 5600 miles above the gas giant's cloud tops. This flyby took the spacecraft directly over Jupiter's Great Red Spot, a centuries-old, 10,000-mile-wide vermilion vortex that has long perplexed scientists. Among the storm's unknowns are its depth and perpetuating forces. The first raw images of the Earth-sized hurricane were released today.

"This is a storm that we've been tracking ever since the dawn of modern astronomy, and we're the first generation to get this exquisite level of detail," Leigh Fletcher, a planetary scientist at the University of Leicester, tells Mental Floss. He says that from the spacecraft's perspective, the Great Red Spot would have stretched from horizon to horizon.

Juno has thus far given us a startling new vision of Jupiter—one of teeming teals and swirling storms—and caused scientists to sharpen their pencils and rewrite much of what they knew about the solar system's largest planet. Today's initial image data promise no less a revolution in the scientific understanding of Jupiter.

What does the Great Red Spot look like from an expert's perspective? "I see a swirl of red cloud material as the vortex spirals anti-clockwise, a deep-red heart that coincides with the calm center of the powerful winds, and clusters of small-scale clouds that stand above the red depths," says Fletcher. "There's even evidence of waves in the spiral arms in these breathtaking images. It's an incredible level of detail in an image that's set to become instantly iconic."

sequential views of the great red spot of jupiter
Enhanced, filtered, and color-adjusted images of the Great Red Spot, in sequential order, showing the changing view from the spacecraft as it passed over the 10,000-mile-wide storm.
Ted Stryk © PUBLIC DOMAIN

Today's image release is just a taste of what is to come, of course. The spacecraft had all nine of its science instruments active during the pass, and data are being blasted back to the Deep Space Network at the speed of light. "For me, the real science always starts with spectroscopy," says Fletcher, "assessing the fingerprints of the gaseous composition and aerosols that are present within the storm." Juno's science payload allows scientists to peer hundreds of miles beneath Jupiter's clouds. "For years we've tried to understand how deep [the Great Red Spot] penetrates into the atmosphere, and what might be sustaining it. By probing below the clouds with the microwave instrument, we might just find the answers we've been looking for."

The Juno spacecraft launched on August 5, 2011 and achieved orbit around Jupiter on July 4, 2016. The next flyby of Jupiter will take place on September 1. It will mark the spacecraft's eighth orbit and seventh science flyby.

Want to see more amazing images? Head over to NASA's JunoCam.

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NASA // Public Domain
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Space
Remembering the Final Space Shuttle Mission
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NASA // Public Domain

On July 8, 2011, the Space Shuttle Atlantis launched on the final mission of the Space Shuttle (STS) program. The mission was designated STS-135.

That final mission carried the smallest shuttle crew since STS-6 in 1983—just four astronauts. They were Chris Ferguson, Doug Hurley, Sandra Magnus, and Rex Walheim.

They were sent up to deliver over 11,600 pounds of equipment and supplies to the International Space Station (ISS). This trip was vital to the ISS, because the end of the Shuttle program meant the end of NASA's ability to deliver heavy payloads to orbit. After the Shuttle, NASA had to rely on commercial launches (not yet in full swing in 2011) and international partners. (Shown at the top of this post is Mission Specialist in the "cupola" of the ISS, observing Earth, while Atlantis was docked with the space station.)

President Obama and the First Family stand beneath the Space Shuttle Atlantis prior to its final flight.
President Obama and the First Family stand beneath the Space Shuttle Atlantis prior to its final flight.
NASA // Public Domain

STS-135 was a minor media sensation, with the Obama family visiting Kennedy Space Center prior to the launch, President Obama meeting the crew at the White House, and the crew appearing on The Colbert Report. The Empire State Building was lit in red, white, and blue on July 20 in tribute to the Shuttle program.

Stephen Colbert salutes the crew of STS-135 on The Colbert Report.
Stephen Colbert salutes the crew of STS-135 on The Colbert Report.
NASA // Public Domain

In line with NASA tradition, STS-135 received some notable wakeup calls during the mission. Some of the biggies included messages recorded by Beyoncé, Paul McCartney, Michael Stipe, and Elton John, preceding their songs (including a brief a capella version of REM's "Man On the Moon" by Stipe). On the Shuttle's last wakeup call, CAPCOM played "God Bless America" as performed by Kate Smith. It was introduced by astronaut Shannon Lucid. It really was the end of an era.

Space Shuttle Atlantis docked with the International Space Station for the last time.
Space Shuttle Atlantis docked with the International Space Station for the last time.
NASA // Public Domain

STS-135 ended when Atlantis landed at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 21, 2011. Today, Atlantis remains on display at Kennedy. Of the original five Space Shuttles, it is one of three that remain intact. Discovery is on display in Virginia, and Endeavour is in Los Angeles.

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