Astronauts battled bureaucrats back home


Douglas Smith - Guest Columnist



Government bureaucracy has frustrated nearly all of us at times in our lives. Driver’s license and auto tag renewals. Paying taxes. Settling estates. It is a necessary function of maintaining an orderly society — or so we keep telling ourselves.

In the wake of Apollo 11’s 48th anniversary of the first manned moon landing on July 20, we may be relieved, in a small way, to learn that not even the pioneers in that most esteemed of human accomplishments escaped brushes with bureaucracy.

A disputed legend contends that crewmen Neil Armstrong, “Buzz” Aldrin and Mike Collins were required to declare moon samples on Customs forms upon their return to Hawaii after their mission. There certainly exists a Customs form bearing their names — two signatures appear stamped. Their departure is listed as “moon,” with arrival listed as “Honolulu, Hawaii.” The declared cargo is “moon rock and moon dust samples.” While historians contend it was a joke, the “inspector’s” sloppy signature lends, at least, a little realism!

Aldrin has displayed an official form for reimbursement of mission-related expenses in his private vehicle around Cape Kennedy. Bureaucrats paid him $33.31.

A sample bag used by Neil Armstrong for collected moon dust was mislabeled and fell through bureaucratic cracks some years ago. A sharp-eyed collector of space memorabilia purchased it at government auction for $995, then, after a successful legal wrangle with NASA, sold it at auction recently for nearly $2 million — authenticated moon dust included!

Moving military bureaucracy in very short time probably saved the Apollo 11 crew from a tragic end in the Pacific. According to Noel McCormack of the Center for the Study of National Reconnaissance, Capt. Hank Brandli, an Air Force weather specialist, discovered a violent storm system headed toward Apollo 11’s splashdown site in 72 hours.

Such accuracy in weather forecasting was uncommon at the time, and Brandli only knew through his work in highly classified satellites designed to support surveillance over such places as China, the USSR and Cuba.

Fortunately, Brandli and an authorized naval counterpart made the necessary connections to re-route USS Hornet’s carrier force, and convince NASA to alter Apollo 11’s re – entry, just in time. Weather recon planes later confirmed the storm over the original splashdown site with winds that almost certainly would have destroyed the capsule’s parachutes and killed the crew on impact.

Sometimes angels even watch over bureaucracy!

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Douglas Smith

Guest Columnist

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