Footprints on the moon

Fifty years ago, in July, 1969, people all over the world were glued to their televisions or radios, monitoring the progress of mankind's first manned expedition to another world: the Apollo 11 voyage to the Moon.

It culminated in two American astronauts making man's first footprints on the lunar surface. This was possibly the biggest event in a very eventful decade.

The 1960s were very exciting. It was the time of Woodstock, miniskirts, the hippies, Flower Power, the Civil Rights Movement, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

There was a rock group on every street, and a nasty war in Vietnam. There was a widespread feeling that it was within the power of the younger generation to make the world better: the Age of Aquarius.

It was a good time to turn a centuries-old dream of space travel into reality.

The modern Space Age started on Oct. 4, 1957, when the Soviet Union launched the first manmade object to orbit the Earth.

The spacecraft, Sputnik 1, could be seen as a starlike object moving across the sky among the stars, and its bleeping signal could be heard by anyone with an ordinary short wave radio.

The Soviet Union had scored a huge prestige point, and there was a sobering realization that big rockets can not only carry spacecraft; they can carry very big bombs. Thus started what became the Space Race.

During the following years, satellites were launched into orbit, space probes sent off to explore the Solar System, and on Aug. 12, 1961, The Soviet Union sent the first man into space, Yuri Gagarin.

Additional countries, including the UK and China developed launchers and lofted their own satellites. Canada got into the space age too, developing satellites such as Alouette, which were launched using American rockets.

In 1962, U.S. President John Kennedy announced plans to send astronauts to the moon before the end of the decade.

This required the development of new technologies, new techniques and a much bigger launcher - the Saturn 5. The single-man Mercury spacecraft and two-man Gemini missions enabled the perfection of spacecraft design and in-orbit rendezvous techniques.

All this was needed for putting a man on the moon.

When we saw those fuzzy TV images of Neil Armstrong and "Buzz" Aldrin making those first footprints on the moon, many of us felt we were on the threshold of a new age.

We could have a space station soon and be making footprints on Mars before the 21st Century.

Like most "New Ages,” things took a bit longer than we enthusiastically expected. One element was the cost.  We needed new technologies and a substantially new approach. Manned space exploration would have to wait a bit longer.

The International Space Station continues to be an important research site for the development of new space technologies, and identifying and solving the problems inherent in long space missions.

In the meantime space exploration continued, using robot astronauts. These have enabled us to explore most of the solar system, and to see other worlds up close.

What we saw has surprised us. The recent flyby of Pluto is a prime example. Also, landers and rovers have made the surface of Mars almost as familiar as our own world.

Now, once again, we are on our way back to the moon, to stay, and to head for Mars. It won't be a space race this time; it will be an international effort, and Canada will be part of it.

The Outward Urge has been with us since we first walked out of Africa, and it is not a healthy thing to ignore. We cannot remain confined in a world with a burgeoning population, squabbling over limited resources, like rats in a box.

We need a dream and we need new horizons.

  • Brilliant Jupiter lies in the south after dark
  • Saturn is low in the southeast.
  • The moon will reach last quarter on the 24th.


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About the Author

Ken Tapping is an astronomer born in the U.K. He has been with the National Research Council since 1975 and moved to the Okanagan in 1990.  

He plays guitar with a couple of local jazz bands and has written weekly astronomy articles since 1992. 

Tapping has a doctorate from the University of Utrecht in The Netherlands.

[email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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