T here are clubs and then there are clubs. Arguably the most exclusive fellowship in this world – or rather out of this world – is the select group of astronauts who took part in the Apollo program that led to the Moon landing of 1969. There have been more US Presidents than there are members of the Apollo club.
One of the few is Apollo 9 lunar module pilot, Russell “Rusty” Schweickart. Selected in 1963 for NASA's third astronaut group, Schweickart became the first man to perform an extravehicular activity – popularly known as a spacewalk – of the program. In March 1969 he tested out the life-support backpacks that would, four months later, keep Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin safe. Talking to me from his home in California, Schweickart exudes an intriguing mix of the practical and the whimsical, the spiritual and the scientific.
This 2½ minute video clip features Rusty Schweickart speaking about his Apollo 9 spacewalk and its impact on him. It is part of the documentary film, “Rusty Schweickart: Apollo 9 & Beyond,” set for release in June, 2020, courtesy of Apollospace, LLC. All rights reserved.
In a new documentary, Schweickart notes that the lunar module was “the first real spacecraft, in the sense that it didn’t have any aerodynamic surfaces; it didn’t have a pointy end. It was absolutely 100 percent functional.” It also had a deceptively crude appearance. “It looked like the whole thing was made out of baling wire and cellophane,” he laughs.
There was a great sense of comradery on the Apollo program. Does he think the key to overcoming monumental challenges is a collective spirit? “People around the world identified with Apollo and what we were doing. Everyone felt involved, not just aerospace workers or US taxpayers. Everyone got that we – the big we – went to the Moon. It was the Apollo guys who represented everyone. It was pretty close to unmitigated joy when Apollo 11 landed.”
Schweickart watched that landing at Buzz Aldrin’s house. The first rule of the club was that the Apollo astronauts looked after their own. And so, on 20 July 1969, Schweickart headed over to keep Aldrin’s family company as they tuned in to the monumental moment on their fuzzy black and white television.
The legacy of his spacewalk, personally, is as striking as the historical one. Schweickart explains how, looking down at the earth, he was beset with questions, not least of which was: “How did I get here as a farm kid from New Jersey?”
Today, his NASA experience allows him something of a rare perspective on global events, he says. “The global Covid pandemic can be seen in that light. Apollo was the moment of our cosmic birth, ‘our’ meaning all of us,” he explains. “And it is that scale of being, all of us, who are simultaneously and virtually without exception being existentially challenged. And indeed, we clearly see that we are all responsible for one another, in very immediate ways.”
Following his Apollo years, Schweickart co-founded an organization that researches the apocalyptic effects of asteroid impacts. It seems like the flipside to the optimistic venture of the Apollo program. So what, I ask, does he find comfort in when faced with catastrophe? “My sense of identity with the Universe,” he explains. “The sense I have that we humans, we life here on Earth, are part of a great universal process.” It undoubtedly sounds like a message for our times.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the moon landings, Rusty Schweickart shared his memories with an audience at Sotheby's. Find out more, here.
100% of the proceeds will be donated to the IRC by the experience providers. Buyer’s Premium will be charged on all lots and 100% will be donated by Sotheby’s to the IRC.
Funds raised from the auction will support the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in their efforts to mitigate and respond to the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak within vulnerable communities in the United States and across Europe. From distributing meals in New York City to translating public health guidance into numerous languages for communities across Europe, the IRC response is built on years of experience in supporting people affected by conflict, crisis, and disaster in over 40 countries around the globe, and providing aid to the most vulnerable populations that are always impacted the hardest when a crisis happens.
The experiences can be enjoyed virtually via Google Meet video calls during this period of lockdown. Google Meet provides premium video conferencing built on Google’s robust and secure global infrastructure.