When Neil Armstrong steered the lunar lander to the Sea of Tranquility in 1969, one of the landmarks he eyeballed before settling on the moon's surface was a triangular-shaped mountain.Process-worshippers gotta process-worship.
It was called Mount Marilyn on his NASA map.
A year earlier, when astronaut Jim Lovell was preparing for the first flight to the moon on Apollo 8, he noticed the geographical formation and named it after his wife, whom he met in the Juneau High School cafeteria in Milwaukee.
Mount Marilyn became a key landmark for the Apollo 10 and Apollo 11 moon missions. It was printed on maps, mentioned in the Tom Hanks blockbuster "Apollo 13" and recognized by Google. So when efforts began in 2014 to get the spot officially named Mount Marilyn, it seemed to Lovell it would be a slam dunk.
But the International Astronomical Union's nomenclature committee said no.Never mind that craters on the away side of the moon bear the names of astronauts, and that there's no longer a Burma-Shave competition to send in 900 empty jars for a trip to Mars.
Seems the same group that ignominiously dumped Pluto from its roster of planets ruled that Mount Marilyn didn't fit its naming criteria, which includes using names of only dead people. Also, there were worries it would set a precedent for Mars when astronauts finally arrive on the Red Planet and start naming things.
But this summer, Lovell, 89, got word that the IAU had relented. Lovell broke the news to his 87-year-old wife in a way befitting a Navy pilot and veteran of several Gemini and Apollo space voyages.
"I told her we accomplished the mission," Lovell said in a phone interview from his Lake Forest, Ill., home.
In 2014, lunar scientist Mark Robinson was trying to correct annotations on features while helping make new maps of the moon and he realized that some of the names made during the Apollo expeditions had never been made official, including Mount Marilyn. He submitted the names for approval, something that's done periodically.And so it was. But there are certain eternal truths, including the agonies of high school.
"It got turned down and there was a long torturous explanation why, which I never fully understood," said Robinson, a professor at Arizona State.
He let the matter rest for a while but realizing the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 was coming up he decided to resubmit an application for Mount Marilyn, which included the radio transcript of when Buzz Aldrin mentioned the landmark. Mount Marilyn is roughly 500 kilometers from the Apollo 11 landing spot.
"One of them called it out because it was an important landmark. It's an unusually shaped mountain that sticks up out of the (Sea of Tranquility) so it's easy to spot," Robinson said. "As far as I'm concerned, if Jim Lovell wants that mountain to be named Marilyn, based on his contributions to science, it should be named Mount Marilyn."
Marilyn Gerlach grew up in Milwaukee, attended 27th Street Elementary School and Juneau High School, where the boy who would someday become an astronaut noticed her as he worked in the school cafeteria. She was a freshman, he was a junior.From the bottom of the ocean to the mountains of the moon, the junior who dropped the future astronaut is unknown.
"The prom was coming and I had to invite some girl to the prom, you had to invite junior girls. I invited a girl, but when she found out I wasn't going to be prom king she dropped me like a hot potato. I didn't have anyone else, so I invited Marilyn," Lovell recalled.