I have been around for a while and have a mountain of good things to talk about. Fifty years ago, when I was a vibrant teenager; full of hope and dreams, two unforgettable firsts happened in one month! They left me mesmerized in the wonder of God’s creation. Unexpected as they were, I had no words in either my indigenous language or English language to describe them. Looking back now, the two events left me filled with respect and admiration for humankind and they boosted my energy and hope that I could in my small way achieve what I wanted in life for my own good and for the good of others.
The year was 1969 in the month of July. The first once-in- a- lifetime event happened on the 20th July, when the Eagle Module of NASA’s Apollo 11 spacecraft landed on the Moon! The historic moment was being watched live by over 660 million people.
Six hours and thirty nine minutes after landing, 38-year old Neil Armstrong(1930-2012) climbed down the ladder of Eagle to walk on the Moon. Nineteen minutes later, he was followed by Buzz Aldrin while astronaut Michael Collins piloted the Command Module Columbia above them. Armstrong and Aldrin were the first men to set foot on the Moon! I remember it vividly as if it happened only recently and thanks to the Internet; from the Archives Teaching Resource, I have been able to fill in almost all the missing pieces and enjoy the event much more. It was perfect timing for me; I was on holiday at home so my parents and siblings were that evening glued on the black and white television set. We were all seated on the edges of the chairs watching the spectacle unravel as if all our lives depended on it! An awkward silence followed but then as if on cue, we all stood up, cheered and ulululated.
I remember Neil Armstrong’s famous words as he took the first step on the dusty Moon surface: “ This is one small step for man, but one giant leap for mankind.’’
Closing my eyes, I can see both Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in their white, multi-layered, flexible spacesuits, space goggles and a backpack containing each one’s life support system. They had gone on to plant the American flag in the surface.
President Richard Nixon ‘s message to them said it all: “ Because of what you have done, the heavens have become part of man’s world.’’
Now I know and understand that for centuries, man had wanted to step on the moon. The Moon race was in earnest by 1957. The unmanned Luna 2 mission of the Soviet Union was the first unmanned spacecraft to reach the Moon’s surface successfully on September 13, 1959. The Soviet Union launched the unmanned Luna 15 on 13 July, 1969 to land on the Moon’s surface and collect the lunar rock and dust. It crash landed on it on the 21st July just a few hours after Armstrong , Aldrin and Collins had landed on the Moon but before their lift off from it.
The Americans had beaten the Russians to the finishing line of the lunar race. It was never really the end but it was the starting line for the second phase of the study and exploration of the Moon.
The three American astronauts in NASA’s Apollo 11 spacecraft had set off from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida on the 16th July with one mission: to land safely on the Moon. It took them three days to enter the Lunar Orbit. The Mission was under control of a team of NASA engineers at the Space Centre in Houston, Texas. Making the historic landing on 20th July at 9:32 am. EDT, turned the three men into America’s most famous astronauts during NASA’s golden era.
In not more than eight minutes, they collected the first geological samples from the Moon surface- rocks and the fine granular lunar dust. Some samples were collected thirteen centimeters below the Moon surface. Since then more Apollo missions have brought back lunar rocks, core samples, pebbles and dust from the Moon. The Moon rock is currently on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. Scientist claim that every sample brought back from the moon has been contaminated by the Earth’s air and humidity. Strictly adhering to the principle of Astronautical hygiene, Armstrong’s and Aldrin’s spacesuits had to be vacuum-cleaned and the inside of the lunar Module, to ensure that lunar dust and particles were not transferred to the Columbia Command Module, destined to return them to planet Earth. The Columbia Command Module splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on the 24th July 1969.
The astronauts had spent eight days in space. They were immediately quarantined in the Mobile Quarantine Facility for twenty one days! This was a safety precaution to ensure that planet Earth was not contaminated by lunar germs in case the two astronauts had picked any from the Moon’s surface. NASA considered this as a better-safe-than- sorry operation.
It was indeed a giant step in Air and space exploration and technology!
Between that Moon landing of July 1969 and 1972, NASA sent five other Apollo Missions to the moon and each planted an American flag at the landing site.The last American Astronauts walked on the Moon surface in December 1972 under the Apollo17 Mission.
Other countries like Japan, China, Israel and India joined the space exploration activities. Only the United States of America, the Soviet Union and China (December 2013) have succeeded in landing safely on the Moon. China with its great power status wants to claim its position as a world power off planet Earth.
India wants to test and prove its advances in science and space technology. On the 22nd July 2019, India’s ISRO launched in 1969, sent off a spacecraft scheduled to land on the Moon’s south pole by the end of August 2019. It is possible that deposits of water-ice could be hidden at this pole.
South Africa’s study and exploration and utilization of space for peaceful uses began in the 1950s. It launched its national space agency in 2010.
The celebration of the 50 years since man first walked on the Moon has opened a new lunar race for exploration and inspired a whole new generation of astronauts. The Vice President of USA, Mike Pence assured Americans that America was returning to the Moon under NASA’s Artemis Project. America would be sending men back to the Moon by 2024, four years earlier than NASA had targeted.
Indeed, the Moon has become a focus of exploration once again.
For the developing countries like mine, it is a matter of national priorities; our governments have the great task of lifting their people out of poverty, creating economic opportunities, technological empowerment and improve the quality of life for all.
Both the developed countries and the developing ones have the collective responsibility of improving Planet earth: the environment itself , the people and animals and plants. The effects of increasing global temperatures affect all of us and so are the effects of pollution and violence. Food insecurity, unemployment especially of the youth, lack of education and government corruption affect our security and well-being.
Now that the Moon race has been set in motion once again, I hope that the Moon and the planets will be harnessed under the Utilitarian ethical principle: with the greatest amount of good for the greatest number and at the same time be protected for the future generations too.
Where were you when Neil Armstrong first stepped out onto the Moon?
The second historical first of the same month and year will be covered in Part11.