“Rollin’ home, rollin’ home, at the light of the silvery moon. I’ll be happy as a king, believe me, when I go rollin’ home”: These are the words of an Ol’ English drinking ballad. Pete has just rolled Yankee Clipper “heads-up” relative to the north pole of the Earth, and Pete, Dick and I can now see planet Earth out our front windows. We are headed back home, and we all feel like kings.
Except for a couple of lightning strikes during our launch, all has gone well. About 45 minutes ago, the service module engine again performed perfectly, increasing our speed 3,042 feet per second. This increased velocity moved us out of lunar orbit and sent us on the way back to our rendezvous with planet Earth some three days from now.
It sure felt good when our rocket engine fired. We could not hear any noise, but the thrust banged us back into our couches and held us there for the entire two minute and eleven second burn. I always felt our crew was so well trained that we could fly the mission as planned. The question that crept into my mind from time to time was, “will our spacecraft continue to perform as it has been designed to do, or would something break?” We were flying in the most complex machine which was ever built. I knew every vehicle, every machine, fails eventually, the question is, when?
Because of orbital mechanics, we had to perform the trans-Earth burn on the far side of the Moon. As a result, Mission Control, back on Earth, was not able to monitor our spacecraft systems as they could during other critical maneuvers. This was OK with us, but it was always preferable to have as many expert eyes as possible on our spacecraft.
We had been heads down, with the moon at the top of our windows, for the burn. This allowed us to see the lunar horizon out our forward windows to ensure we were at the precise attitude. When the burn was complete, Pete pitched our spacecraft slightly so the we could look out the hatch window and see the Moon as we were leaving it.
What an incredible sight. It looked to me like we were going straight up on the fastest elevator imaginable! After just a few minutes we could see the Moon as a big round gray ball outside the hatch window. It was magnificent, and we humans need it out there circling the Earth every 28 days.
I read somewhere that our Moon not only helps light the night sky, the gravity of the moon acts as a gyroscope, keeping the earth’s axis steady at 23.5 degrees. This stability has given life a chance to arise amidst a cycle of regular seasonal changes.