Steve Jurvetson, on the recurring nightmare Neil Armstrong had for two years leading up to Apollo 11

Venture capitalist, photographer, and master-level space fanatic Steve Jurvetson has been digging in to his archives for snapshots and relics related to the life and legacy of the late astronaut Neil Armstrong. For instance: above, a vintage 11”x 14” X-ray of Armstrong's lunar EVA spacesuit boots dated 7-7-69, only 9 days before the launch.

You can scroll through more photos here, on Steve's Facebook page.

Steve shared some amazing conversations with the "First Man," from what I can tell. Here's one:

Tang is a farce. That was the first thing Neil Armstrong told me last night. “We did not use it on the Apollo missions.”

I asked him, of all of the systems and stages of the mission, which did he worry about the most? (the frequently failing autopilot? the reliance on a global network of astronomers to spot solar flares in time to get the warning out? the onboard computers being less powerful than a Furby?....)

He gave a detailed answer about the hypergolic fuel mixing system for the lunar module. Rather than an ignition system, they had two substances that would ignite upon contact. Instead of an electric pump, he wished he had a big simple lever to mechanically initiate mixing.

That seemed a bit odd to me at first. So, I asked if he gave that answer because it really was the most likely point of failure, or because it symbolizes a vivid nightmare – having completed the moon mission, pushing the button... and the engines just wont start.

He responded that he had dreams about that for two years prior to the launch.

Reminds me of what Warren Ellis wrote on the day Armstrong died:

“I am, and ever will be, a white-socks, pocket-protector, nerdy engineer,” Armstrong said at a millennial gathering honoring the greatest engineering achievements of the 20th century. A modest man. One who will inspire nerdy engineers for ages to come.


  1. Wasn’t the actual reason, that the two pipes mixing the liquids were of different length and as a result the thrust was uneven and made the module constantly wobble. So as a result you had to have constant adjustments that were done manually. So in essence the module had to be farted off the moon by astronauts.

    1. I really like to believe it wobble and farted off the moon because it was how best to do it… Engineers engineering for a reason, there are often loads of quirky stuff engineers dig, e.g. fudge factors.

      1.  You’d like to thanks so, but they were under a very tight deadline and it was just quicker to train a pilot to steer an unbalanced lunar module off the moon then it would have been to re-engineer it or to design a working automatic system.

  2. It probably would have been devastating for me as a kid to hear that Tang was a lie–I drank it as avidly as Ralphie drank Ovaltine in A Christmas Story. It just made sense to me that we had a special drink for the Space Age. 

    1. Isn’t it fucked up that we were fed so much of that kind of crap as kids? Sugar, chemicals, artificial colors. Tang, kool-aid, and the like. Ovaltine, too. Just poison. Kids shouldn’t be drinking that shit.

        1. I remember the ice cream being not that bad. Kind of like those cornstarch-based packing peanuts (which are not too shabby in milk, try ’em) but ice-cream flavored.

        2.  Those are again available for purchase. (Check Amazon.) The peanut butter flavor are one my husband’s favorite treats.

          I don’t get it, either.

        3. Speaking for the less-than-alluent kids, we’d take Wonder Bread and squeeze it into pills and called it “Space Food.”  Nothing like the transformative power of the imagination to make the world a better place.

      1. Just wait until you realize what’s in your soap, shampoo, perfume, toothpaste, clothes, linens, cookware, carpets, paint, car interior, drugs, milk, meat, cheese, tea, wine, vegetables, etc.

        1. Says the person who assumes I don’t lay awake all night worrying about all of those things already.

          Anyway, I only drink pure grain alcohol and rainwater. None of that fluoridated Commie stuff.

          1. I don’t want no dirty commie preverts messing with the purity of my bodily fluids. They’ll answer to the Coca Cola company, Mandrake.

      2. What’s even worse than all that jell-o and kool-aid and crap sugar was all the HOT DOGS and processed meat.  We used to eat ’em out of the freezer, like meatsicles.  JEEZUS

      3. But the fact that it was crap didn’t register on our collective consciousness until relatively recently.. long after all of us who grew up on that stuff became adults. Once upon a time people were convinced that food that could sit in the pantry for ten years and remain edible was the best possible future.

        To me, the interesting point to me is the proportion of kids that grew up in the 60’s to the 80’s with no long term health problems. Modern thinking would have us believe we should all be dead or infertile.

        1. Sometimes, in my more philosophical moments, I wonder if this stuff is so bad for us because we say it is. I mean, if you were to take every study at its word, you would be left with a bread and water diet…minus the bread, of course.

          1. My dad died of cancer at 61. My mom died of cancer at 65. I have had cancer. Not sure all’s so well myself

        2.  Modern Science might say that if people hadn’t eaten all of that crap, and breathed all of that shitty, polluted air, 1 in 2 people might not get cancer in their lifetimes

  3. Was my comment deleted for a reason, or was it a glitch?  I just asked what the x-ray photo is, at the top of the post?

  4. Well, anybody who’d ever heard of the Messerschmidt ME-163 would have nightmares about riding a hypergolic rocket.  I can’t fault him for that, I’d want a manual lockout too.

  5. Dunno about “farting off the moon” – although it is a great image. Here’s Armstrong explaining the LEM’s motion in an oral history interview with Stephen Ambrose and Douglas Brinkley:

    “The thing that surprised me—and we knew this ahead of time—the attitude control in space, to pitch the craft you use a—say you wanted to pitch up, you would use a down-pointing rocket in the front and an up-pointing rocket in the back. That would pitch the craft up. But we didn’t want any rockets firing up when we’re accelerating away from the Moon, because that would be wasting fuel. So we would only use the down-pointing rockets because they would be adding to our velocity, would be fuel-efficient.

    But the result of that is that there’s a substantial rocking motion. As you pitch forward, the pitch-up thruster fires, lifts your nose up, then it stops, then the nose falls down again and the rocket fires as though you’re in a rocking chair.”

  6. One other thing about the ascent engine: I seem to remember Aldrin once saying that if it *hadn’t* lit, he would have started banging on it with a hammer – its housing projected up into the cabin of the LEM.

  7. “Here’s me staring at camera with big smile next to person who doesn’t care!” 


    I’d rather see the, “Here I am with famous person talking in a picture someone took without me being aware of it” or “Here’s me actually being more interested in that person next to me than the fact I’m mugging with this Tang!”

    The guy appears to take more value out of having brought the Tang thinking it was funny than meeting the man.

  8. Apollo crews did have access to a procedure which could be used to “hot wire” the ascent stage pyros if the batteries were unable to fire them and get fuel flowing to the engines. I believe it involved running a two conductor cable from a battery in the descent stage to the back of a circuit breaker in the ascent stage. It would have to be done in vacuum because the cable would have come in through the door. As soon as the pyros fired the ascent stage would launch so the cable would be pulled out of the astronauts hand at that point.

    [Schmitt – “There was also a plan for using one of the OPSs if we had to hot-wire the LM. This last-ditch procedure was to take a line out to the batteries in the Descent Stage to Gene’s circuit breaker panel to open the propellant valves. You didn’t make the connection to the circuit breaker panel right away; because, as soon as you did, he valves would open and you’d be on your way. So you’d come back in (after connecting the wire to the batteries) and then, when you were finally ready to go, you’d touch the circuit breakers and hot-wire the hypergolic valves in the Ascent Stage. I think we went through hat drill once to know where the batteries were.”]

    Link to the ALSJ

    1. Think about doing that *in spacesuit gloves*. I assume the cable was pretty thick…

      One more thing to add to the Ultimate Resume: “If necessary, can hotwire a lunar module.”

Comments are closed.