Friday, 11 April 2014


In 1961 President John F. Kennedy promised that the United States would land a man on the moon by the end of the decade. The sheer audacity and scale of Kennedy’s vision is now hard to comprehend. It would cost $120 billion, employ 400,000 people at its peak, use rockets and computers not yet even imagined, let alone designed, and new alloys yet to be discovered.
Before the Apollo project began NASA's Mercury and Gemini programs put astronauts into Earth orbit and tested docking procedures necessary for a lunar landing. Launched by the largest rocket built, the mighty Saturn V, the Apollo spacecraft was made up of three parts.

It's Christmas Day, 1968 and the crew of NASA's Apollo
8 take a photograph that would become the iconic image
of the sixties. It would also become the most profound
environmental photograph of all time.
They called it 'Earthrise'.
These were the command module where the astronauts lived on the journey and the only part that returned to Earth; the service module that provided the power and consumables; and the lunar module that would allow the astronauts to descend to the lunar surface.

The first manned spacecraft to orbit the moon was Apollo 8 on Christmas Day, 1968, famous for the iconic ‘Earthrise’ photograph that showed the fragility of our planet along with Commander Jim Lovell’s beautiful Genesis narrative. On July 16, 1969 Apollo 11 blasted off from Cape Kennedy with astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin and Michael Collins on board. On July 20, 1969 the lunar module "Eagle", with Armstrong and Aldrin aboard descended to the Sea of Tranquillity on the lunar surface, an event watched by millions worldwide on television. Armstrong lowered a ladder and stepped down on the moon's surface. It was "one small step for man, but one giant leap for mankind." It was the first step by mankind on another world.

The NASA Apollo 11 mission in 1969 took the first humans to the surface of the moon. Millions of Earthlings watched with bated breath as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin (pictured) alighted from the lunar module. Image Credit: NASA.

The astronauts spent about two and a half hours on the lunar surface, raising the American flag, collecting rocks and setting up instruments. After lifting off they flew back to the command module and successfully joined Michael Collins. Four days later Apollo 11 successfully splashed down in the Pacific Ocean.

In the years that followed there were five more lunar landings, with Apollos 15, 16 and 17 even including a lunar rover that allowed the astronauts to travel tens of kilometres from their spacecraft. The landing sites had romantic sounding names such as Hadley Rille, the Taurus-Littrow valley and the Fra Mauro crater just above the Sea of Storms. All of the sites have since been stunningly imaged by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, and the photos on NASA’s website even show the astronauts rovers and footprints!

The Apollo program was a stunning success and for those who were around for those all too brief years between 1969 and 1972 it will never be forgotten.  Sadly Apollos 18 to 20 were cancelled as a budget cutting measure by President Richard Nixon even as Armstrong undertook the first moon walk.  The program was a product of the Cold War space race with the USSR and once this military goal had been achieved the solar system could be explored more economically, safely and efficiently by unmanned robotic missions.


Facebook Twitter Google Digg Reddit LinkedIn Pinterest StumbleUpon Email

No comments:

Post a Comment