The following is an excerpt from Wes Oleszewski's book "Growing up with Spaceflight, Apollo Part Two" It is protected by copyright 2015 Wes Oleszewski, no part may be reused without the author's permission- publication here does not imply such permission.
THANK GOODNESS THE RODEO IS IN TOWN
Coasting toward the Moon, Apollo 16 was, again, making it look easy. Those of us on the earth saw very little of the transit between the Earth and the Moon as the big networks simply did not find it worth their time on the evening news. Still, the mission continued to unfold in my favor as each critical event just fell right into place on my calendar. Lunar orbit was entered on Wednesday, April 19th and the lunar landing was scheduled to take place on Thursday afternoon at 3:41 Eastern time with the first EVA scheduled to begin that same day at 7:19 in the evening. The second EVA was scheduled to start at 5:44 Friday Evening and the final EVA was set for Saturday evening at 5:17 followed by lunar liftoff at 4:34 Sunday afternoon. An issue with the CSM TVC would cause a delay in the PDI, and reshuffle the EVA schedule. Yet, this all worked for me because my folks would give me Thursday off of school for the landing and the rest of the events fell into a good place for me for one big reason... the rodeo was in town!
Okay, so you may be asking yourself, “Rodeo? In mid-Michigan? How the heck does that fit into Apollo 16?” The fact is that I have about zero interest in rodeos or anything associated with them and the same was true in April of 1972. My parents, however, at that time both worked at the newly opened Saginaw Civic Center and the rodeo coming to town was a huge event for the arena. Mom and Dad were going to be completely occupied from early in the morning until late in the evening working at the Civic Center from Wednesday until Sunday. Mom worked the commissary and Dad huckstered programs- they made a good deal of extra money over and above Dad’s full-time job as a railroad engineer for the C&O. The best part was that on Saturday and Sunday, they were taking my brother and sister with them. They would both get cowboy hats, and I would get Apollo 16! So it was that on Friday April 21, 1972 the scheduled first EVA for Apollo 16 was mine alone at home to enjoy and tape record.
In order to make up for the power used in the near six hour delay prior to PDI, the crew had been directed by Mission Control to execute an extensive power-down. Following that, the orders were for the astronauts to go to sleep. The entire lunar activity schedule was being re-written on the spot and the first EVA was now set to begin 11:30 am, Eastern time the following morning rather than taking place at 7:19 pm this evening as originally planned. Of course, the delay meant that the 7:19 time had already passed- so the first EVA’s start time was already moot. That rescheduling struck gold with me- now I had a reason to stay home from school on Friday too!
I did not even have to work at convincing my parents to give me the day off. As they dragged themselves in from working at the Civic Center, I simply told them that the EVA had been rescheduled to tomorrow morning. Mom simply yawned and said,
“Have fun on the Moon dear.”
NOTHING COULD BE WORSE THAN A SPACE-BUFF THAT IS STUCK WATCHING SOAP OPERAS AND GAME SHOWS
Friday morning arrived and with my brother and sister gone to school and my folks gone to the Civic Center, I had the whole day by myself with nothing but continuous coverage of Apollo 16’s lunar EVAs on the TV… or so I thought.
NBC started their coverage at noon, but by then both astronauts were already on the surface and working after having popped the hatch at 11:47 am Sheridan Park time. There was no news coverage of John Young’s first step onto the lunar surface nine minutes later due to a failure in the LEM’s high-gain antenna. Without that antenna, no television could be transmitted, so no TV equated to no TV ratings and thus no TV interest from the network news producers. Young’s first words as he became the ninth human to set foot on the Moon and looked around were,
“There you are, our mysterious and unknown Descartes Highland plains. Apollo 16 is gonna change your image.”
Instead of Young’s historic first steps onto the lunar surface, what we here on earth got was a 60 second blurb of Roy Neil telling us that Young was on the surface and Duke was still “…inside the cabin…” In fact, listening carefully to the tape, Duke’s voice can be heard in the background telling Houston that he is, “…makin’ little footprints here…” which were some of his first words on the surface, thus Charlie Duke was also walking on the Moon at that moment. Roy Neil announced that TV pictures would be had as soon as the lunar rover was set up and its camera was turned on; that would be accomplished, “…in about an hour.”
“Okay,” I reasoned, “a break in coverage due to a high-gain antenna failure, I can see that.”
What I did not know was that the networks had decided to do away with the “gavel-to-gavel” coverage of the lunar EVAs, similar to that given to political conventions. So instead of being able to watch the moonwalks in an eight-hour marathon, as had been the case with Apollo 15, now we would get short segments inserted into regular programming. For daytime TV addicts it was probably a huge annoyance, for space-buffs it was a huge disappointment and another example of the networks turning their backs on Apollo and the peaceful advancement of human civilization in favor of game shows and soap operas.
Just before one o’clock the camera on the rover was activated and the networks cut into “Let’s make a Deal” “As the World Turns” and “Three On A Match” to show us the men walking on the lunar surface. Young and Duke were loading up the rover and obviously enjoying every moment of it. The pictures from the lunar surface were amazingly clear due to a new image enhancement process that NASA had contracted prior to the mission.
After the crew set up the American flag, both
astronauts took their turn getting their photo taken standing next to it- at
least that was what was in the mission plan. John Young went first and rather
than standing there and giving a salute, he jumped straight up about two feet
and saluted. Duke snapped one photo of his jumping commander and then Young
jumped for a second shot. Next it was Charlie Duke’s turn to salute. As that
was happening CAPCOM, scientist astronaut Tony England, called to report that he
had good news. The United States House of Representatives had just passed the
Space Budget by a vote of 277 to 60 and that budget included the funds for the
“Beautiful!” Both astronauts exclaimed.
“This country needs that Shuttle mighty bad,” Young added, “you’ll see.”
At that moment, John Young had no idea that he would command the first Shuttle mission nearly a decade later as well as the ninth mission two- and one-half years after that. Likewise, CAPCOM Tony England would go on to fly on the 19th Shuttle mission STS-51F as a mission specialist.
I spent the rest of the day busily spinning the rotary dial, switching between the three channels on our TV set, 5, 12 and 25, in the hope of being able to catch some coverage whenever whatever network saw fit to present it. Bringing out my black and white portable TV helped as I could leave it set on one channel and scan the other two with the big set. Still, it made for an aggravating afternoon- the worst part of which was having to watch the dribble that was being broadcast between the segments of EVA coverage. Nothing could be worse than a space-buff being stuck watching soap operas and game shows while a lunar EVA is in progress. Since the birth of humanity people have dreamed of walking upon the Moon and now, when it is finally happening, we got to watch soap operas.
I turned the sound off and began reciting my own dialogue to the shows,
“Doctor, he has a hangnail.”
“Quick, prep him for surgery, we’ll have to remove his gonads.”
“Don’t argue with me nurse, I’ve had six months of medical ROTC.”