1968: NASA Chooses the First Men

Neil Armstrong

So back in the 1960s, the decision makers at NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) looked at the top candidates, all of whom were the best on the planet to guide the lander to a safe place and make that first step, and found themselves stumped.

There was no one out of the 29 candidates who singularly possessed any particular skill set that the others couldn’t equally match with their own excellent skill set.

Finally Flight Director GENE KRANZ said, “I dunno. You want to draw straws?”
ROCKET SCIENTIST: “Please! We’re men of science.”
CRYPTOGRAPHER: “How about Cryptography on their names? You never know what you might come up with?”
NASA Administrator THOMAS O. PAINE: “Right. Why not numerology?”
LINGUISTICS (holds pencil thoughtfully): “How about Semordnilap?”
ALL: “A what?”
LINGUISTICS: “Semordnilap.” (writes in the air) “You reverse a word or words to make new words. You want to try it on their names?”
ROCKET SCIENTIST: “Real clever. Linguistics! Why are you even part of this? Do we have a mission critical crossword puzzle to be – ”
WERNHER VON BRAUN: “I’d like to hear more about this, actually.”
LINGUISTICS (proudly): “Semordnilap has always been a part of secret coding.”
CRYPTOGRAPHER: “Well that’s true.”
LINGUISTICS (prouder-ly): “Semordnilap itself is a reverse of the word ‘palindromes’. You can intentionally hide entire sentences or coded words within another word. But often you find words already exist in a sentence, and sometimes even make sense, in the reverse of a sentence or a group of words, like a name.”
WERNHER VON BRAUN: “As someone whose country was significantly defeated by cryptographers, I’d like to try this.”

Cryptographer and Linguistics beam with pride at each other.

ROCKET SCIENTIST (sotto voce): “Don’t puff up. You were just flattered by a NAZI.”
GENE KRANZ: “Hey, watch it, you!”
WERNHER VON BRAUN: “I’m used to it.”
THOMAS O. PAINE: “Well ol Edwin Eugene Buzz Aldrin has to be one of them.”
THOMAS O. PAINE: “His Mother’s maiden name was Marion *Moon*.”
ROCKET SCIENTIST: “You of all people didn’t know?”
LINGUISTICS: (challenging glare) “You really want to mix it up, don’t you? Well I’m game!”
GENE KRANZ: “Ahem ! And with a nickname like Buzz?”
THOMAS O. PAINE: “Well that’s just too much cool not to have him there. But don’t ever let him know I said that. Okay, let’s try this Snerdlap and -”
LINGUISTICS: “Semordnilap.”
THOMAS O. PAINE: “Right, and see if we can find the other guy.”
CRYPTOGRAPHER: “I’m working through this already. Check it out. ‘Gnorts Mr. Alien’.”
CRYPTOGRAPHER: “Neil Armstrong, spelled backwards.”
WERNHER VON BRAUN: “Mr. Alien… Ha! Vunderbar! I like that.”
GENE KRANZ: “Me too. The first two earth men on the Moon are Buzz Moon and Mr. Alien. That’s great!”
LINGUISTICS: “But what’s Gnorts?”


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