These three words didn’t enter my vocabulary until 1967 when I began to seriously follow our space program to the moon. Project Mercury I have no recall of as only three years old when John Glenn and cronies took flight, Project Gemini there are vague remembrances in the brain but it is Project Apollo that total recall fills the memory banks. Pitch, roll, yaw are terms used in aerodynamics about how the aircraft or spacecraft moves up or down, forward or backward and came to me through Walter Cronkite as he reported to the country and the world our movement toward landing men on the moon. Apollo 1, the tragic fire that cost of us three lives is where I begin.
I remember the funeral on national television and watching the flag draped coffins but in my young mind I was concerned that spaceflight may end here and had no feeling, or knew how to feel, for the families left behind. The nightly news announced the pending investigation of the fire and that it would be months before anyone may know; adding the tidbit that this could end space travel. In the days that followed I so hoped that the detective work, like that in a police novel, would lead to the arrest and conviction of all the criminals involved and so it did as faulty wiring underneath one of astronaut chairs was caught and sentenced forever changing space travel. When this news came about imagine my delight in knowing we may still reach the moon and do so before 1970.
Apollo 7, the first testing of the new craft in space, launched on October 11, 1968 about 22 months after the fire and to me getting to the moon was what I waited for it did not matter if in this decade or that of the 70’s. As I watched this flight and that of Apollo 8 to the moon and the famous, “Genesis Message” to the world on Christmas day 1968, and Apollo 9’s testing of the lunar module which will put man on the moon, gently, the terms pitch, yaw, roll came over the news casts. At just 10 years old I had no idea what these words meant but did know they were part of what is going on above. So with Apollo 10 men came to within 10 miles of the lunar surface, Apollo 11 landed the first men on the moon, Apollo 12 the next two than we had a near fatal mission on 13, which this flight brought the fading public eye back into space, 14, then Apollo 15 and the neat lunar rover (I waited for the evening news to get shots of lunar travel from this marvel of engineering). Apollo’s 16 and 17 rounded off the program as the government felt space flight too expensive and needed the money for other foreign projects.
After Apollo I kept abreast of the link up with the Soyuz Russian spacecraft for peaceful purposes and then Skylab which as we all know came back home in flames a few years later as the Space Shuttle was supposed to lift in back into a higher orbit but that project was behind schedule. Since these dreamy, fantastic days of the 60’s and early 70’s yaw, roll, and pitch have been shuffled to the back of my mind and were retrieved just today while out walking my dog and watching a jet liner leaving a jet stream looking like one of the mighty Saturn V rockets that took man to the moon and me with them.