It is often said that “dog is man’s best friend.” And although he’s recently been replaced by the iPhone, our faithful little buddy is still a very popular app. Their loyalty and devotion is unquestioned. We are humbled by a dog’s gratitude for the simplest of pleasures; like that plastic spaghetti spoon thing we use to launch a tennis ball a mile and a half with a simple flip of a wrist. Dogs possess a deeply embedded pack instinct, so it was no great surprise to Mission Control when Neil Armstrong’s dog Astro bounded out of the VIP grandstand enclosure at Launch Control and onto the Sea of Tranquility just as Mr. Armstrong was about to take his historic moonwalk. I mean is it really any wonder that when his master went for a walk, the dog would follow.
Let me explain the strange turn of events on that historic day of July 21st 1969 when man first set foot on the moon. It was a beautiful moonlit night here on the earth and a glorious sunlit night there on the moon when man took his first moonwalk years before Michael Jackson ever did.
Countdown to “Wanna go bye-bye?”
On July 16th 1969 all systems were “Go” on the launch pad at Cape Kennedy as the tiny Apollo 11 Command module sat atop its outsized 3-stage Saturn V Rocket engine like a little tin angel perched on a Christmas tree filled with liquid oxygen. The powerfully sequential Saturn V Booster Rocket would be necessary to propel the miniscule Command Module from the launch gantry, through the dense atmosphere of Earth in 3 stages – Denial, Bargaining and Acceptance – until it was free of the Earth’s gravitational field and on its way to the moon.
America waited breathlessly for the historic blast off as the rocket was held ramrod erect by the gantry at Launch Complex 39, Pad A at Cape Kennedy, Florida. (Note: Cape Kennedy was ceremoniously renamed from Cape Canaveral in 1963 to honor our slain President before the city father’s figured they’d honored JFK enough and unceremoniously retronamed it back to Cape Canaveral in 1973). As one gazed upon this majestic missile, one wondered in unspoken disbelief just how on earth this spindly tin can packed with 3 sardineonauts was going to make it all the way to the moon and back again without benefit of a single Stuckey’s rest stop in between. How on earth (and on the moon) would this be accomplished? We’ll soon find out.
Flying just a few thousand miles from airport to airport in a jet airplane within the relatively dense atmosphere of earth’s gravitational field is one thing, but rocketing from Earth to our nearest satellite and back again is quite another. I don’t really understand how air travel is accomplished except that, by virtue of its unerring repetition, I guess it’s doable. But the complexity of a moonshot is something I can’t fathom at all. For Apollo 11 to escape earth’s atmosphere required 7.5 million pounds of thrust or about a million more pounds of thrust than is required to satisfy Kim Kardashian. And while that gargantuan motive force may explain how Apollo 11 was able to proceed to the moon, it hardly explains how Astro made it there – especially without a heat shield or a bowl of Tang.
Sitting inside the VIP grandstand enclosure of Launch Control watching the event live out the window and on TV screens were the families of all 3 astronauts aboard that historic flight. There was the Michael Collins’ family. He was stuck in the Command Module orbiting the moon in the getaway car while his 2 more famous crewmates burglarized the surface to steal rocks and make astronaut angels in the lunar dust. Edward “Buzz” Aldrin’s family was also there. “Buzz” was the 2nd man to walk on the moon and became the Andrew Ridgeley (exactly) of the mission. Neil Armstrong’s family was sitting front and center with his boy Elroy, daughter Judy, Jane his wife, their loyal dog Astro and for some reason their robotic maid Rosie. They sat in unbridled anticipation as their paterfamilias prepared to have his candle lit. In fact Astro was exhibiting signs of acute distress as he tried to reconcile pictures of his master on TV with the instinctual knowledge that his alpha-owner was sealed in that “tin can” down yonder.
It’s Not a Conspiracy Theory if it’s True
What happened next not only boggles the mind, it’s been a state secret scrupulously kept by NASA until now. By revealing this state secret I’ll likely have to move in with Eric Snowden or I’ll get strip-searched by TSA every time I fly (which isn’t such a bad experience I’m told – especially if you get Candace). But this is a price I’m willing to pay so that my fellow citizens shall know the truth.
I’m sure you’ve heard stories about a family moving out of state and forgetting to bring the family dog. And somehow Rover shows up at the doorstep 3 weeks and 450 miles later. Well our little buddy Astro displayed a similar single-mindedness in following his master Neil to the ends of the earth (actually the ends of the moon). Astro’s determination can only be described as “dogged.” So perhaps it was not unexpected that when the candle was lit and Apollo 11 ascended to the heavens, Astro bolted from Elroy’s lap and charged toward the rocket to be with his master.
Now this is the part that takes a leap of faith – a 250,000 mile leap of faith. In an inexplicable process on par with the plausibility of most Star Trek plots, somehow Astro managed to chase his master, through the earth’s atmosphere, into the inky depths of space and all the way to the moon without benefit of a single Stuckey’s or an encouraging “Atta boy.” Orbiting some 69 miles above the lunar surface Michael Collins curiously reported, “Aaah Houston, we’ve got a Rottweiler – passing by at my one o’clock. Wait. Is that Astro?” NASA’s Mission Control responded, “Telemetry shows no such ‘space dog’ in your quadrant. Advise you increase your oxygen level in the Command Module.” NASA tried to convince Collins that what he saw was an old Soviet Cosmodog the Ruskies had launched in the mid-60s that was now hopelessly marooned in the moon’s orbit after a spacewalk gone terribly wrong when Laika’s leash snapped.
Who Let the Dogs Out?
As if this true science fiction wasn’t fantastic enough, our furry friend Astro tromped onto Tranquility Base just as Neil was about to begin his moonwalk. It seems Astro-boy had made the entire trip on just one breath and was wagging his tail in super-fast motion since there was very little gravity to resist its excited oscillations. And on that hallowed July evening of 1969 when Neil descended the ladder of the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) who’ll ever forget his ineffable words as he set foot on the moon; “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind….Astro? Is that you? Here boy, here boy.” NASA sprang into action and used its’ built-in 10 second time delay to make it appear as if Commander Armstrong was just taking your everyday walk in the lunar park. What NASA didn’t want you to know was that Astro had made it to the moon under his own power thereby demonstrating a canine tenacity last seen when Lassie barked to his owners that there was trouble down at the old mine shaft. In the meticulous decade long planning for this event NASA prepared for just such an exigency and managed to carefully edit out Astro’s appearance on the fly.
Commander Armstrong continued his walk with Astro and soon all four legs of the LEM were drenched with lunar urine – most of it Astro’s. Instincts die hard. Astro marked his territory even though there wasn’t another dog to forewarn within a quarter million miles. He even managed to squirt the base of the American flag Neil had planted earlier. It should be noted that there is no wind on the moon, and the flag’s remarkable ability to seemingly flap in the breeze was achieved through a process of internal ribbing. It should also be noted that when NASA managers make fun of each other, it’s also achieved through a process of internal ribbing.
After yet another of Astro’s shameless bowel movements, Neil employed his moonrock shovel as a pooper scooper to clear the area of unwanted moonstool, dog slog, space waste or as it’s more scientifically referred to: interstellar excrement. While Neil gathered moonrocks, Astro was shadowing his every move thereby hindering Neil’s important work. That’s when an age old idea coalesced in the helmet of our intrepid astronaut. Why not get Astro out of the way by engaging him in the first recorded instance of lunar fetch? So Neil picked up a moonrock and threw it for Astro to retrieve. But lunar gravity being what it is, the rock traveled like it had been launched by one of those plastic spaghetti spoon things and traveled about a mile and a half with a simple flip of the wrist. Astro (whose moon weight was a mere 15 lbs.) bounded after it in 200 foot leaps and proudly returned with the ancient stone clutched in his canines.
Neil played lunar fetch with Astro repeatedly until his work was completed and he returned to the LEM where “Buzz” Aldrin was a little upset because now there’d be another mouth to feed and they were already low on Space Sticks. Neil explained, “Cool your jets Buzz. Astro is not coming back with us. He found his way here, I’m sure he’ll be able to find his way back. He’s a very down to Earth dog.” So they left him a bowl of Tang and blasted off towards the Command Module and a reunion with wheelman Michael Collins.
With all the unplanned EVA (Extra Vehicular Activity) on the moon, NASA refused to release any pictures of the landing area of Tranquility Base – it was all covered with paw prints and that’s just exactly “What NASA Doesn’t Want You to Know About the Moon Landing.” Clearly it was all faked on a skunk works, gravity-defying sound stage specially built and hidden in Area 51. An Unreality Show for the ages. How else could l’il Astro make his appearance without benefit of oxygen?
And now having revealed this sacrosanct “Eyes Only” state secret, all my bridges have been burned and I must take refuge by entering a kind of self-constructed Witness Protection Program. So I’ve decided to join the faceless scientists who warn politicians about Climate Change. I figure since no one is listening to them, they’ll never notice me. If that doesn’t work I’m crashing at Snowden’s place.
But before I do I must reveal one last outrageous lie – I made this whole thing up. Yup. It’s a product of a combination of an active imagination and access to too many police evidence lockers. It’s just a story appearing in the vacuum of space. And just as nature abhors a vacuum, so do I. Therefore I’ve filed it with a dreamy story whose thrust I hope is not lost on you. But you knew all this didn’t you? Tell me you did. Otherwise it’s kinda freaky.
The inspiration for this story is predicated on an event that occurred to me in 1969 when I was living in Albany, NY and I sold my beloved ’64 Mustang to a guy from Bennington, VT. He saw the ad in the paper (I’m referring here to a printed sheet of news or “newspaper”, once popular before the Internet) and drove the 32 miles to purchase it for the then princely sum of $1750. Oh how I loved my Betsy (which is what I called my ’64 pony car). She was a classic but I had to part with her or default on my student loans.
About two weeks after Betsy was ripped from the only home she’d ever known, I woke up and went outside to get the paper. And there was Betsy sitting in the driveway, none the worse for the wear except for maybe a few scratches on her trunk. WTF (What the Ford) was going on here? I walked over and stroked her fender. She started right up and I could swear she was wagging her little Motorcraft tailpipe at me. I called the new owner who was bewildered, but relieved at discovering Betsy’s relocation. He said he’d parked the car in the garage the night before and when he went out that morning the garage had been broken out of, and yet he had all the keys. That little bucking Mustang simply did not want to be ridden by its new owner and had an affinity for me so powerful it threw him off so we could be reunited. That’s how fierce a connection can be. In this case a Mustang was man’s best friend. I can only imagine what the first moonwalk would’ve been like had Betsy been owned by Neil Armstrong. “Aaah Houston. We’ve got a Mustang.”
A few years later I had a comparable experience with an ex-girlfriend who returned to me in a similarly unexpectedly way. How she burst out of her new boyfriend’s garage I’ll never know.