Of all the things we achieved on the earth,the most amazing achievement has to be the one that has taken man furthest from his home planet.Going into space is something that back in the early part of the twentieth century people only dreamed of but in the latter years of the 1950s and the life changing decade that was the 1960s it finally happened. As a young boy I can remember the Apollo space missions and remember huddling in front of our black and white television to watch these groundbreaking achievements.
The race to the Moon began fifteen years before Apollo 11, with the launch of Sputnik 1 by the Soviet Union. It shocked America. One lady interviewed in the street on the nightly news said, “We fear this.” Another was frightened that a bomb could be next.America’s fearful reaction was a surprise to President Eisenhower. Yet he never fully realised the importance of space, in either military or propaganda terms. Sputnik 2 followed, this time carrying a live creature – a dog, called Laika. Meanwhile, America’s first attempt to launch a satellite ended in a launch pad explosion.
Major Yuri Gagarin’s pioneering flight cemented the Soviets’ space supremacy
Werner von Braun put it well when he pointed out that America’s first satellite weighed just 4 lbs, against the 196 lbs of sputnik 2. “We are competing only in spirit,” he said. Soviet space victories were unstoppable.Then Russia achieved the big one. Major Yuri Gagarin became the first person to go into space and orbit the Earth. The Soviets, it seemed, were unstoppable.But there remained a glimmer of hope for the United States. Years before Gagarin’s first flight, US intelligence and space chiefs secretly advised that, although the Soviets would continue with a series of space firsts, with a gigantic effort the USA could get to the moon first. So, having lost the first rounds in the space race, it was left to another president, President Kennedy to lay down the challenge. In May 1961 President Kennedy grasped the nettle, and set the USA on course for the moon.
“I believe this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth,” he said, in what became one of the most famous speeches of his presidential career.
Some believe the competition for the moon prevented military confrontation between the superpowers. The moon-race has been called the moral alternative to war. First came the single-manned Project Mercury. Then, as the techniques of propulsion and navigation, life support and rendezvous were mastered, two-man crews took part in Project Gemini.Then came Project Apollo. On 20 July 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon but since 1972 manned moon missions, have come to an abrupt end. The sense of wonder and achievement was reported in articles all over the world and has been reported on many times since.
Voyage to another world
It was on December 21st, 1968, when man finally left the cradle of Earth. To some this was the greatest achievement of the Apollo programme.In orbit around the Earth, the third stage of the giant Saturn 5 rocket was re-ignited, and with the velocity it provided, three men broke free of Earth’s gravity for the first time, and began their pioneering voyage to another world.Astronauts Borman, Lovell, and Anders were the first to truly see the Earth as a planet. Each hour, as they looked behind them, it had dwindled a little more, being slowly swallowed by the great cosmic dark.Soon beneath them was a landscape like the aftermath of the final battle. Crossing the lunar limb, they saw the radiant blue and white Earth hanging over the cold grey lunar landscape. In a way, we had gone to the Moon and discovered the Earth – so beautiful, so fragile, so small and mankind’s only home. The landing was only months away.
Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were chosen to be the first to walk upon the Moon almost by accident. It could have been any one of twenty men. Neil Armstrong believed the chances of a successful touchdown were 50/50.Several years before, the Apollo astronauts were all assembled for one of the first briefings. The head of the astronaut selection office, Alan Shephard – himself destined to walk upon the Moon – said that he did not know who would be the first to set foot on the lunar surface. But, he said, he did know that that man was sitting in the room with him, as well as the second and the third. In a roster of crew assignments before the date of the landing was decided, Armstrong and Aldrin were given Apollo 11.
Depending upon the success of preceding mission it may or may not have been designated as the first landing.By the time Apollo 8 had reached the moon at Christmas 1968 it seemed likely that Apollo 11 would attempt the first landing.Armstrong believed the chances of a successful touchdown were only 50/50. Before launch, during a dinner with the head of the American space agency Nasa, the crew of Apollo 11 was given a unique promise.Nasa’s head, Tom Paine, said to them that if they failed to land on this mission, then the next mission would be theirs to try again. So it would be until they were successful. Apollo 11 takes off ,watched by millions, the mission begins “The Eagle has wings” The historic mission began on July 16th at 0932 local time. Watched by over two million people in the vicinity, the Saturn V rose into the air from pad 39a.The journey to the Moon was quiet. It had been done twice before and was almost routine.Eagle, the landing craft, separated from Columbia on the far side of the Moon.Armstrong reported, “The Eagle has wings.”At the lowest point in its orbit, it fired its engine to begin the descent.The landing was a drama. Several times during the descent alarms sounded: at 14,300 metres (47,000 feet) it seemed that the computer was being overloaded.”You are go to continue powered descent,” said capsule communicator Charlie Duke at mission control.Aldrin saw the Earth out of his window as the Eagle turned for the final descent.
Another alarm. Armstrong: “Give me a reading on the program alarm.” According to the computer, Eagle was coming in too fast. The mission book said abort.But Steve Bales, the 26-year-old flight guidance officer, saw that it was just one reading, and that everything else was OK.The Eagle then got a radar lock on the lunar surface that seemed to be normal. He signalled to Charlie Duke, who said, “You are go, you are go!”They were at 6,400m (21,000 ft) and descending at 3,700m (12,000 ft) a minute. The landing, or an abort, was just moments away.Looking out of the window Armstrong saw that they were heading for a field of boulders, in which landing was impossible. He took manual control and began skimming across the surface to find a better spot.Charlie Duke then said, “30 seconds.” The fuel was running out.Apollo 11 touches down on the Moon The Eagle has Landed.Then, seconds later, the metal feelers that protruded from Eagle’s footpads touched the surface. Aldrin said the first words ever spoken by Man on another world; “Contact light.” It was 2118 BST, July 20th 1969. Man was on the Moon. No one who witnessed those translucent black and white images on the Sea of Tranquillity will forget them. Here was man on another world, moving around in the ultimate desert, silent and stark, on a tiny world where the horizon was only one and a half miles away.Back on Earth, someone placed a hand-written note next to the eternal flame on president Kennedy’s grave.
It read “Mr President, the Eagle has landed”
(Space passages expertly written by Dr David Whitehouse)