SEALs Who Brought Apollo 11 Astronauts Home. « Ramani's blog
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SEALs Who Brought Apollo 11 Astronauts Home. « Ramani's blog

Hawaiian Ocean View : HI : USA | Jul 23, 2012 at 9:10 AM PDT
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Apollo 11 - First Moon Landing - Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins

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However, very few people nowadays remember a four-person team of courageous Navy SEALs who had made the astronauts’ safe return possible 43 years ago.On July 24, 1969, the Apollo 11 capsule plummeted from space and landed in the Pacific Ocean about 1,000 miles off the coast of Hawaii. Four young service members handpicked for their strength and swimming abilities arrived on the scene of the splashdown to bring the first humans to walk on the surface of the moon to safety.With the whole world watching, Navy SEAL John Wolfram stepped onto the steaming, partially blackened surface of the capsule, which just minutes earlier had entered the atmosphere at thousands of miles per hour, according to CNN’s Light Years.As he stood on the vessel bobbing up and down in the ocean, Wolfram was all too aware that the well-being of the space pioneers was in his hands.‘I looked in the hatch window to see if the astronauts were OK,’ recalled Wolfram. ‘They smiled and gave me a thumbs up. Being the first to look them in the eye and see that they’re OK – it’s quite a rush.’Wolfram and his three teammates graduated from the Navy’s elite SEAL training school, known to be among the toughest of its kind in existence. They had trained for months in anticipation of the high-profile mission and served on recovery teams for previous Apollo moonshots.The task at hand was not an easy one: stabilize and secure the spacecraft, decontaminate the astronauts and get them safely aboard a hovering helicopter bound for the aircraft carrier USS Hornet.Before Wolfram could ever step onto the spacecraft, he first had to catch it. From a helicopter hanging low over the site of the landing, he jumped into the frigid water and proceeded to lasso a high-tech bucking bronco.The fact that Wolfram was able to attach an underwater parachute – called a sea anchor– to stop the drifting ‘bobbing, 12,000-pound spinning behemoth,’ was an almost super-human feat, said Scott Carmichael, the author of the book about the mission called Moon Men Return. ‘If that thing hits you in the head, you’re done.’Wolfram had only one shot to attach the sea anchor to the capsule. It was moving so fast that if he were to miss his target, he would not have been able to catch up to the drifting vessel.The Navy SEAL, however, did not disappointed.Joined by lead frogman Wes Chesser and teammate Mike Mallory, the trio then struggled against 12-foot-high waves and 28 mph winds to attach a 200-pound inflatable floatation ring around the spacecraft.Home-bound: The astronauts settled into a basket-like carriage and were then hoisted into a Navy chopper for the ride to the USS Hornet‘We were the muscle guys of the outfit,’ joked Mallory, 66, who now works with utility control systems in Hartland, Michigan.NASA officials were impressed with how quickly they wrapped the ring around the vessel.‘Wolfram and I were very strong swimmers, so we muscled that ring around there,’ Mallory said. According to Carmichael, Mallory’s physical might made him a ‘horse’ when it came to swimming in the open water of the Pacific. And Chesser ‘was just unflappable,’ he added.‘All hell could be breaking loose and Wes just had that capacity to calmly look at something and figure out what needed to be done.’The team attached inflatable rafts to the capsule and overall mission leader Clancy Hatleberg helped astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin out of the capsule – unsure if they would be able to stay on their feet after days in zero gravity.The Apollo crew and the frogmen put on special suits and masks – called biological isolation garments – to protect them against ‘lunar pathogens’ – possible biological threats the astronauts may have unknowingly brought back from the moon.Not everything, however, had gone off without a hitch. The masks made it difficult to communicate, and the goggles began to steam up. For a few minutes, they had trouble getting the capsule hatch to lock shut, which could have compromised its floating integrity.Chesser, 67, now a retired defense contractor, remembered how an open hatch led to the flooding and sinking of astronaut Gus Grissom‘s space capsule after splashdown in 1961.With the glitches resolved, the astronauts settled into a basket-like carriage called a Billy-Pugh net, and were then hoisted into a Navy chopper for the ride to the USS Hornet.After making Apollo 11 history and serving two tours in the Vietnam War, Wolfram’s life took a dramatic turn in 1971, when he attended a church revival. He has since become an ordained minister serving as a missionary in Southeast Asia.He and Chesser have visited Washington’s Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, which is now home to the Apollo 11 capsule
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2177482/The-extraordinary-untold-story-Navy-SEAL-musclemen-brought-Apollo-11-astronauts-home.html#ixzz21SbBGVS6

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NASA handout photo of the Apollo 11 launch
NASA handout photo of the Apollo 11 launch
ramanan50 is based in Bangalore, Karnataka, India, and is a Stringer on Allvoices.
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