Sam Mellinger

Fact checking Royals’ Ned Yost with one of America’s foremost experts on moon landings

Many shouts-out to Ned Yost for spicing some of baseball’s dog days with unbridled passion for space exploration. Truly, a welcomed three-days-and-counting alternative to the minutiae of a Royals team on pace for another 100 losses.

These three days have been Yost at his Ned-est, with the most recent of his signature over-the-top displays of knowledge on niche subjects delivered with a performance that alternates between self-aware and look-how-much-stuff-I-know.

The latest came when he responded to a question from 610 Sports’ Royals pregame host Cody Tapp about the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission.

Yost’s initial response came in the form of a 90-second oral white paper on the 1202 alarm that finished with a simple question: “Now what else do you want to know about it?”

The next day, Yost went into detail about Apollo 15, and on the third day of Professor Yost’s Space Camp class, reporters watched a video about space exploration.

I’m out of town on another assignment, so I’ve observed all this at a distance and with a nagging question that just won’t leave: Does Ned really know his stuff?

He’s been known to, well, stretch facts like batting averages and attendance figures and such to his benefit. That gives him something in common with 99% of us, of course, but when a man whose expertise is helping young baseball teams transition into contenders goes off on a three-day bender of space program lectures, it just makes a man curious.

So, please put your hands together to welcome Andrew Chaikin to the column. He is an award-winning science journalist and space historian. James Cameron called him “our best historian of the space age.”

Chaikin teaches courses at NASA and the Missile Defense Agency. The Smithsonian named his “A Man On The Moon” one of the best books about the Apollo program and landing on the moon.

In other words, Chaikin is an incredibly overqualified fact checker for our local baseball manager.

Chaikin, for some reason, was generous enough with his time to go along with this weird column idea. I emailed him two videos of Yost talking about Apollo and space with a basic question: How much did he get right?

I was ready to expose a fraud, if needed, because that’s what serious journalists do, but Chaikin was positively emphatic in his praise.

“He did really well, actually,” Chaikin said. “Oh yeah. Oh yeah. I was really impressed.”

Yost’s lone slip in Chaikin’s view was something of a technicality. He had the Apennine Mountains surrounding the landing site of Apollo 15 at 20,000 feet. They’re actually closer to 15,000.

“But, hey,” Chaikin said. “We’ll give him a pass on that.”

Chaikin, as you’d expect, knows more details than Yost has offered. Like the 1202 and 1201 alarms. The cause was a little more complex than Yost’s account, but according to Chaikin “even most of the people who write about space don’t know that.”

The simplified version of the more complex telling is that the power supply for the computer contained an obscure flaw that on rare occasions — one out of 60 or 70 times, according to Chaikin — a mismatch existed not in the voltage but in the phase of voltage.

It was so rare that not enough people (or maybe not the right people) knew to fix it.

“We’re talking pretty down there in the weeds,” Chaikin said. “I know it because I was in touch with one of the guys who developed the computer and software.”

So, there you have it. Yost is an avid bow hunter, World Series champion as both coach and manager, professional wrestling insider and avid NASCAR fan who even once served on his friend Dale Earnhardt’s pit crew.

And now he’s an unofficially certified space exploration expert.

“I have a few more details that he doesn’t know that I’d be happy to convey, stuff that only the real Apollo geeks would know,” Chaikin said. “He’s welcome to call if he wants to really geek out.”

Consider Chaikin’s cell phone number shared.

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Sam Mellinger is a sports columnist for the Kansas City Star, where he’s worked since 2000. He has won numerous national and regional awards for coverage of the Chiefs, Royals, colleges, and other sports both national and local.