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Fly Me to the Moon

By James Anthony

Fly Me to the Moon

An astronaut ponders the meaning of a
giant golden vacuum cleaner on the moon

As a small schoolboy I will never forget the moment the class was allowed to take a break and watch footage of the first landing by mankind on the Moon.

It was the 20th of July, 1969, and from the Apollo 16 mission's command ship Columbia, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin descended on to the Moon's surface in the Eagle.

The Eagle landed in the Sea of Tranquility to the relieving words from Armstrong of "Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed," and after 20 minutes he went down the ladder of the craft to where no human had gone before.

As his left foot touched the Moon's surface Armstrong's immortal words were "That's one small step for man, but one giant leap for mankind."

And how true.

It seemed a miracle when less than 70 years after the first aeroplane was flown, mankind was able to fly a rocket into space and deposit astronauts on the Moon.

For children of the 1960s and 1970s space flights to the Moon were a wonderful realistic dream, then budget cuts forced NASA's space programme to shelve it.

All up there have been six Moon landings and today children will once again be able to have such dreams with an announcement that US president George W. Bush wants to send a manned flight to our nearest lump of galactic rock by 2020.

The aim is to send a four-person manned flight to the international space station in a redesigned space shuttle. They will then rendezvous with a separate flight carrying the crew's module.

That will link up with a heavy-lifting cargo rocket containing the lunar landing module. The cargo ferry will contain a large version of the current space shuttle's solid rocket boosters and five main engines.

The first mission is set down to land the four astronauts on the Moon by 2018. That advance party would stay for a week.

Now the cost of the programme is around US$100 billion and in the wake of the New Orleans disaster and cost of the war in Iraq much criticism has been aimed at Bush. The Katrina hurricane also badly damaged NASA's bases in the south-east of America and that will take some time - and more than US$1 billion to repair.

But Bush has even grander plans for space exploration and wants to eventually have a mission to the red planet, Mars.

The new push for space has been made more difficult to sell considering the problems caused by the ageing shuttle fleet and the Challenger and Columbia tragedies where 14 astronauts died on re-entry. Before any new attempts can be made at the Moon, NASA will need to come up with a new space flight vehicle that negates the difficulties that have plagued the shuttles. But it will surely be another amazing event for the school children of 2018.

Interesting Bits:

  • The three crew on the Apollo 1 mission died on January 27th 1967, when their capsule caught fire during a test countdown.

  • Apollo 7 in 1968 had the first manned space launch and live TV broadcast from a spacecraft.

  • Apollo 8 conducted the first human orbit of the Moon.

  • Apollo 9 tested the latest space suit during a space walk.

  • Apollo 11 had first Moon landing.

  • Apollo 11's Neil Armstrong becomes first man to walk on Moon.

  • Second Moon landing on Apollo 12.

  • Apollo 13 aborts mission but crew returns safely using lunar module as emergency lifeboat.

  • Alan Shephard - the first American in space - becomes oldest man to walk on the Moon in 1971.

  • First lunar sports event when Shephard hits two golf balls.

  • Apollo 15 is the first mission to use the lunar rover.

  • Speed record for lunar rover set by Apollo 16, it got up to 17.7 kmh. Apollo 17 conducts last mission to the Moon.

Links:
NASA website
NASA website (without Java)

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