Today is a appropriate anniversary. Fifty years ago today — July 20, 1969 — the Apollo 11 lunar bore affected bottomward on the apparent of the moon. About six-and-a-half hours later, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, Jr. became the aboriginal men anytime to airing on the moon.
As is the case with aloof about every added breadth of American accepted culture, poker has played a role in the amplitude affairs over the years.
Science fiction films sometimes portray abandoned astronauts biding their time arena cards with one another, alike if accomplishing so presents a somewhat catchy hypothesis accustomed the dainty ambiance with which they charge contend. That said, agenda arena is one of several recreational activities — forth with account books, alert to music, arena Scrabble (with Velcro on the tiles), and communicating with admired ones aback on Earth — that astronauts spending months at a time aboard the International Amplitude Station accept enjoyed.
Looking aback to origins of the amplitude race, wherein the United States begin itself in antagonism with the Soviet Republic in the accomplishment to beat amplitude and eventually acreage a man on the moon, the attempt was about compared to a ample calibration political poker bold abounding of bluffs and reraises as the stakes grew anytime higher. (The aforementioned was accurate for the Cold War, about speaking.)
The successes of the aboriginal two Sputnik missions in 1957 did abundant to burn the consecutive American effort. For a time engineers at Jet Prepulsion Laboratory in Pasadena dubbed their mission “Project Deal.” That’s because Jack Froehlick, the project’s manager, was himself a poker player. As he told John Noble Wilford for a New York Times commodity on the history of the amplitude program, “When a big pot is won, the champ sits about and cracks bad jokes, and the also-ran cries, ‘Deal!'”
As it happened, abundant of the planning for the consecutive lunar missions took abode not far from Las Vegas, the basic of poker and gambling, in the abandoned Nevada desert. In fact, 11 of the 12 men who accept absolved on the moon readied for their missions at the Nevada Test Site.
Located about 65 afar arctic of Las Vegas, Armstrong, Aldrin, and added approaching moonwalkers all alternate in training sessions in the desert, a “virtual lunar landscape” as declared by aerospace historian Peter Merlin. From the mid-1960s through 1972, NASA had astronauts in the Nevada arid practicing acquisition samples and active the lunar departer training vehicle.
Another analysis ability area rockets accept been activated additionally has a affiliation with poker — the Poker Flat Analysis Range endemic and operated by the University of Alaska’s Geophysical Institute, the name for which can be traced aback to Bret Harte’s 19th aeon abbreviate adventure “The Outcasts of Poker Flat.”
But poker’s role in America’s amplitude affairs goes above coincidences of cartography and the names of projects and analysis facilities. Apparently, the bold served as an important allotment of preflight preparations, too.
Certain superstitions were about followed above-mentioned to missions, including the confined of the aforementioned accolade egg and steak breakfast advantaged by Alan Shepard, the aboriginal American in space. Addition ritual afresh afore every mission was one in which the administrator of the mission played cards with the tech crew, continuing the bold until he absent a hand.
As Alan Murphy explains in a 2008 commodity for The Amplitude Review blue-blooded “The Losing Hand: Attitude and Superstition in Spaceflight,” the “card bold [has been] abnormally declared as a blazon of blackjack and as a affectionate of five-card poker,” although “apparently cipher knows who began this custom.” Murphy speculates it acceptable began a few years beforehand with the Gemini missions, the aboriginal to absorb two-man crews (and appropriately a commander).
Another NASA attitude during the sixties was to deathwatch up astronauts with music, with the 1965 hit “Houston” by Dean Martin a frequently called selection. For poker players, the song’s sad sack adventure of a bankrupt man walking aback to Houston in the rain connects with a acclaimed poker appellation “Walking Aback to Houston.”
Poker Hall of Famer and Texas built-in TJ Cloutier already explained the term’s origin. “Those Houston players would appear to Dallas and comedy that ace-king, but they’d consistently end up adjoin a brace of aces. That’s why we alarm that duke ‘Walking aback to Houston'” (quoted in The Poker Encyclopedia, edited by Elkan Allan and Hannah Mackay).
In the canicule afterward the acknowledgment of Apollo 11 fifty years ago, there was some affair apropos the fifty pounds or so of moon rocks the astronauts brought aback with them. Some scientists believed the rocks could accommodate bacilli that ability accept afflicted the men and/or would afield affect the earth’s ecosystem. Extensive tests were performed on the rocks, during which time the astronauts were abandoned for a aeon so as to ensure they had able any adverse effects.
What did the astronauts do during their aeon of confinement? You estimated it. As Wilmot Hess, who formed with NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston during the time of the Apollo missions, told Carol Butler of NASA’s Oral History Project, the men spent their canicule “drinking bourbon and arena poker and whatnot, and accepting a acceptable time.”
The moon landing was absolutely an amazing moment in history, and appropriately already afresh captures our apprehension a half-century later. As such a cogent allotment of American ability and history, it isn’t hasty to see poker axis up as allotment of the adventure of the U.S. putting the aboriginal men on the moon.
Save these anecdotes, conceivably to accompany up the abutting time addition in your poker bold hits a advantageous agenda and describes it as an “ace from space.”
Martin Harris is the columnist of Poker & Pop Culture: Telling the Adventure of America’s Favorite Agenda Game, accessible now via D&B Poker, Amazon, and elsewhere.
Photo: “Aldrin Apollo 11” (adapted), accessible domain.
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Poker & Pop Culture: Revisiting poker’s bulge in the amplitude affairs on the moon landing’s 50th.
After visiting the moon, the Apollo 11 astronauts were quarantined. What did they do? Played poker.
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