Fifty year’s ago, one of those “where were you when” events took place.
That is, one of those defining events that sticks in the minds of those old enough to be aware of them when they happened.
I can immediately think of three other events of my life time that I can put into that category.
I can recall where and when I first heard of the following:
1) The assassination of Robert Kennedy (I was too young to be aware of JFK)
2) The Challenger space shuttle disaster
3) Sept 11 2001
Using those events as examples, it seems that tragedy often lingers in the memory more than things of a more positive nature.
However 20th July 1969 stands out as one of those rare, non-tragic days to remember. It was when men first landed and stepped onto the surface of the moon.
I lived in England. It was a weekend during the summer and my dad had been playing cricket. Every weekend the family would accompany him to watch him play, and afterwards to the post game drinks enjoyed by the competing teams.
That particular time was a home game, and afterwards everyone adjourned to the local Catholic Club.
Because of the historic event, the club provided a television broadcasting the progress of the final parts of Apollo 11’s journey to the moon.
Everyone sat around the screen until it was broadcast, via white text on a black background: “Eagle Has landed”. I recall no film of the landing, just those words.
And then everyone went back to their business; the adults drinking and chatting, and the children, playing, or otherwise amusing themselves.
I don’t recall seeing any more of the that moon-landing, or the moon walk until years later. The latter must have happened during the middle of the English night, so it would have been missed at the time by me as an eleven year old.
A year or two later, at a more reasonable broadcast time, my school class was taken to the school assembly hall to watch another moonwalk, as it happened, on TV.
Having grown up around the time of the race to the moon, and being a month or two older than NASA, I’ve always had an interest in the space program and for some time now I’ve collected mission patches. These two are significant today.
Designed by crew member Michael Collins, the mission insignia includes the bald eagle, the national bird of the United States, with an olive branch in its talons representing their peaceful mission.
Initially placed in the beak, the branch was moved to soften the aggressive impression of the bird’s talons.
The insignia also includes a lunar foreground with the Earth in the distance. Portraying the view from the mission’s destination.
Unlike other mission insignia, it excludes the crew names, to make it more representative of everyone who had worked on the mission, and not only the three crew.
50 years later to the day, another space mission is scheduled to begin. The 60th expedition to the International Space Station.
To commemorate the timing link between the two missions, The expedition 60 insignia was designed to reflect the achievement half a century ago. The position of the moon and the earth in the design have been switched to reflect the relative locations of the missions (the ISS being in earth orbit with a distant moon).
A constellation of three stars with the Moon superimposed forms the letter “L,” the Latin symbol for 50. The Moon is depicted as a waxing crescent, as it was on July 20, 1969.
The yellow silhouette of the International Space Station is visible, flying across the night sky.
Stars form the shape of an eagle in the same pose as on the iconic patch of the Apollo 11 mission. The sunrise represents the fact that we are still in the early stages of humanity’s exploration of space.
The hexagonal shape of the patch represents the main viewing window in the space station’s cupola, with the six points of the hexagon also symbolizing the six crewmembers of Expedition 60. The names and nationalities are not present, as on the original Apollo 11 mission patch, to highlight that space missions – then, now, and in the future – are for Earth and all humankind.
(Exp 60 description adapted from text here)
While there was some distance between myself and the Apollo 11 landing, brought only a little closer via very limited TV coverage, I feel a slightly closer link to the ISS missions, as mentioned in previous posts, frequently being able to watch the station pass over head when conditions are right.
When we look back over the past 50 years, its easy to see some amazing technological advances, and yet, when it comes to the space program I have to ask whether it reflects that same rate of technological advance.
Of course, it could be pointed out that today’s astronauts have far greater computer power than those of the Apollo era could have dreamt of. It has been noted that Apollo era spacecraft had less computer power than today’s phones. I recall reading somewhere that my very first computer, in the early 90s (a commodore 64) had more memory.
Surely with those improvements more could have been achieved than being limited to close earth orbit? And yet, since the return of Apollo 17 at the end of 1972, that has been the limit of all manned missions. It’s nothing like the speculated rapid progression to Mars that was anticipated after the success of Apollo.
Why hasn’t the same kind of progress been made in space travel as we’ve seen in other areas of mankind’s technological achievements?
Surely it can’t be entirely due to a lack of political will, considering a series of Presidential administrations have announced intentions to return to the moon.
It’s clearly not because technology is lacking. In most other fields, the successes of Apollo would have been continued and advanced.
My own suspicions don’t look to technology or politics for the answer. Ultimately the boundaries of our achievements aren’t set by human ability and ambition, but by the God who created both mankind and those places away from earth that we might wish to explore.
20:17 UTC 20 July 1969
06:17 AEST 21 July 1969