Thursday, July 20, 2006

Moon Landing Day

Today is the anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing on July 20, 1969. Back then, it seemed certain that a revolution in space travel was about to happen -- first the moon, then Mars -- and with a few scientific and engineering breakthroughs, perhaps even Alpha Centauri and the galaxy beyond would be within reach. It was a Star Trek geek's dream.

But alas, such was not to happen. The cost -- in energy, in dollars -- of getting people and equipment the first 200 kilometers up into Low Earth Orbit was and continues to be the biggest obstacle hindering the development of humanity's future in space. It is sad to think that the current plans for returning to the moon aren't based on any substantive technological advance beyond what was used for Project Apollo.

In this NASA archival photo, Astronaut Neil A. Armstrong, Apollo ll mission commander, works at the modular equipment storage assembly (MESA) of the Lunar Module Eagle on the historic first extravehicular activity (EVA) on the lunar surface. The moonwalk began at 22:56 EDT on July 20, 1969 when Armstrong stepped onto the Moon, the first human being to set foot onto another world. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin followed a few minutes later. Aldrin took this photograph with a Hasselblad 70mm camera.

Most astronaut photos from the Apollo 11 mission show Buzz Aldrin. This is one of only a few that show Neil Armstrong (some of these are blurry).

The third member of the crew, Astronaut Michael Collins, remained in lunar orbit in the Command Module Columbia.

When we think of the Wright Brothers, we see their first flight as a first step in massive technological and social development that built on what they achieved and extended it further. When we think of Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins, we remember them as the ones who were first to a place to where we have lost the ability to return. My hope is that we all live long enough to think about Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins in the same way that we think about the Wright Brothers.

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