The transcripts from the Apollo 12 mission contain this two-minute conversation between CAPCOM Gerald Carr on the ground in Houston and command module pilot Dick Gordon in the spacecraft.

Carr: We've been kind of thinking here a little bit, and we'd like for you to consider a proposal here. It's the idea of getting into the [lunar module] tonight before bedtime and going through the housekeeping portion of your checklist. [...]

[They discuss the plan.]

Gordon: Okay. It sounds good. We really don't have any place to go tonight, so we don't mind working late.

Carr: Okay. It looks like about 11 hours, and we'll work up a good solid plan for you and come up with it later.

Gordon: Okay and if that was a proposal, you'd better watch the use of that language. We won't accept those sort of things.

Carr: Roger. Should I have said this was a proposition for you?

Gordon: No, you said proposal, sir.

Why does Gordon object to the term "proposal"? "Proposal" often means a marriage proposal: is Gordon making a joke about that? Or is his complaint serious: maybe the term implies some sort of disrespect to the chain of command?

The conversation is light-hearted; this line comes right after a joke about "not having any place to go tonight" while in orbit. So I'm guessing it's a joke, but pretending to understand "a proposal" as implying Carr is proposing marriage to the entire crew seems too stretched for a weak pun.

Carr asks if he should have said "proposition" instead. Is that a serious question, or in jest? "Proposition" often means a sexual proposition: is he implying that both terms are unfortunate?

I'm also confused why Carr asks what he should have said and Gordon answers about what he did say. Is that relevant to the meaning of the exchange?

1 Answer 1


I don't think that Gordon was seriously complaining because he responds first with, 'Okay. It sounds good.' That's friendly, casual speech. I think if he was complaining he would have responded first with the complaint, in a more formal way.

I think it is a joke, and the joke is simply that Carr was not talking about marriage, but Gordon puts him on the spot by suggesting that maybe he was. Gordon's intent is to surprise Carr. It's a challenge to see whether Carr can respond with something witty. Gordon is challenging Carr to a game of wits.

The fact that Carr pushes it further after Gordon says they don't 'accept those sort of things' is a confirmation that it was a joke. Gordon's joke is that a marriage proposal is improper in the context, even though Carr hadn't meant a marriage proposal, but a proposal to go into the lunar module. So then Carr offers something that would be even more inappropriate if they were serious, a sexual proposition. Given the morality of the time the conversation took place, this would have been quite risque. We call this 'upping the ante'. It's like in poker where one person places a big bet, thinking it will intimidate the other players, but the next player shows he's not intimidated by placing an even bigger bet. Carr is returning Gordon's challenge by challenging Gordon to keep the joke going.

I agree that it's puzzling that Gordan then tells Carr that he said it was a 'proposal'. Maybe Gordon doesn't want to keep the joke going, or can't think of a way to keep it going, or thinks that if he does keep it going it will get to the point of being improper. After all, how can you respond when your commander is joking about a sexual proposition, without things getting weird?

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