Monday, July 20, 2009

Has It Really Been 40 Years?

Exactly 40 years ago today, at 20:17:39 GMT (3:17 PM EST,) the first manned spacecraft to ever visit another world landed on the Moon. I was only four years old, but I remember my dad getting me out of bed when, almost 7 hours later, Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the Moon. I have a very vivid memory of sitting in my pajamas with my sisters on the green carpet in the den in front of the television.

To get into the mood for this anniversary, Mrs. Squirrel and I watched The Right Stuff on Friday night, and then HBO’s From the Earth to the Moon on Saturday. (Mrs. Squirrel drew the line and would not let me watch Apollo 13 today. (Well that’s not quite true, but I could tell that it would not have pleased her.))

Here are some interesting facts that you may not known about that first Moon landing:

Because Neal Armstrong diverted from the primary landing site and landed manually some distance away, Mike Collins was never able to spot the landing site from orbit.

While Armstrong and Aldrin spent 21 ½ hours on the surface, they only actually walked outside for 2 hours and 36 minutes.

The "dashboard" of the Apollo 11 command module had 24 instruments, 566 switches, and 71 lights. The command module also had approximately 15 miles of wire, enough to wire about 50 houses.

Mechanical problems with the command module’s water filtration system caused hydrogen bubbles to build up in the drinking water supply, resulting in some rather odiferous “out gassing.” It affected all three crew members, so at least no one could point fingers. (From all reports, after a few days in space without any kind of shower facilities, an Apollo capsule wasn’t the most pleasant place to be. I understand that things are much better now aboard the space shuttle and the international space station.

When Armstrong and Aldrin came back inside from their moonwalk, their suits were coated with a fine powder of Moondust. Armstrong said that it smelled like “wet ashes in a fireplace” while Aldrin described it as a “spent gunpowder” smell.

Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC) that directed Eagle, the Apollo 11 lunar lander, to and from the surface of the Moon, had 74 kB of memory and 4 kB of ram! Oh, and it cost $150,000+… (my cell phone has over a gigabyte of memory, and cost about $100…)

Before they left the Moon, Armstrong and Aldrin threw their boots, EVA backpacks, and garbage out the hatch and left it all on the Moon.

The Apollo 11 crew only spent 21 ½ hours on the Moon. The last Apollo mission, Apollo 17, would spend the longest time on the Moon, at just over three days.

NASA's Apollo 11 40th Anniversary page

Wikipedia's Apollo 11 page

Apollo 11 Fact Funs

More Fun Facts

Mankind is visited the Moon only six times, and each time only two men walked on its surface, and all that took place in three short years 40 years ago. We haven’t been back since. In total, in the entire history the world, 12 men have spent a total of 300 hours on the Moon. That is less than two weeks.

Maybe it’s a result of such early exposure to space travel, but I’ve always been nuts for outer space. The vast majority of my recreational reading is science fiction, and I’m talking the hard, technically oriented stuff. Honestly, growing up, I figured that there would be all sorts of space based industries by now. But all that we have is one itsy bitsy collection of components without a commercial application on board; about the equivalent of a dozen or so shipping containers held together of baling twine.

But 40 years ago, expectations were much, much higher. If you watched the television coverage or read the newspaper reports from the time, it’s easy to see that they expected us to have permanent settlements on Mars by now. Even with the turmoil and social unrest of the late sixties, there was a much higher level of optimism in the future then we see today.

The space shuttle, now almost 30 years old, is slated for retirement some time in 2010. And the Constellation program, with its Ares rockets and Orion crew vehicles, essentially updated 5-man Apollo-type capsules, which is the manned space vehicle that is supposed to replace the shuttle, now faces an uncertain future due to possible NASA budget cuts.

If NASA’s budget will allow it, the Constellation program plans on returning man to the Moon by the year 2020, 48 years since our last visit. Plans are then to establish a permanent base on the Moon, and push on to Mars.

So today as we look back it that achievement 40 years ago, and salute Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Mike Collins, let’s see if we get our imaginations going about the future again.

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