It is forty years now since humanity achieved something truly unimaginably stupendous. A moment I cannot think of without being covered in goosebumps. I do not know if any future generation will ever get to experience what I did when I was a boy just old enough to understand what was going on and remember it. One of my species, a human being rode a rocket ship, walked down a ladder, stepped on to Earth’s moon, got back on that ship and came home.
Until then, the idea of ever being able to actually go to the moon was thought to be impossible. When it did happen, it was perhaps the most unifying moment in all of human history. This was a moment when New York City policemen, some of the toughest people alive where in tears, and again during the parade for the Apollo 11 astronauts when they returned home. We, human beings led mostly by the United States and the vision of JFK, united the world. People from New Zealand to Karachi where all watching TV at the same moment with a profound sense of amazement that our view of our world and its neighbor satellite was about to change forever. That perhaps there was nothing humanity could not do if we just pulled together. Science could answer all questions and solve all problems. Superstition and its horrors where a thing of the past.
As I write I am trying to remove any trace of an agenda other than simply trying to express the wonder and the unity that was July 16 1969. This could be said to be the greatest moment of all human history and like perhaps all scientific achievement becomes the background of our lives and taken for granted after the fact.
If we land a man on mars it will not have the impact that the first moon landing did. We did not know if we could do it then. Anything natural or supernatural could have prevented it. Don’t laugh, many people felt secretly or not that something would happen to prevent man from landing on the moon. If you are at all able, try and rent or download the Australian film, ‘The Dish’. This movie always brings back the magic of that moment for me. I do not know if people too young to remember the moon landing will get that feeling from this movie but I hope you do. In a simple naive way, this movie shows how Australia’s role in bringing the world the TV pictures from the landing was a major accomplishment in itself. The back story showing how major the front story was. Please do rent the Dish. If it gives you one tenth the pride and joy it does me, you will feel it well worth it.
As I think back on this day, perhaps the chance to have seen all humanity glow with a rare pride, as one people, led by the United States, basking in an accomplishment of proportions humanity barely dared dream of, is worth other less noble sights in this life.
May we find a way to a new moment like this, through accomplishment and unity instead of the more likely regret.
From Boston.com (click the link to see the pictures un squished)
The view from the Apollo 11 Command and Service Module (CSM) “Columbia” shows the Earth rising above the Moon’s horizon on July 20th, 1969. The lunar terrain pictured is in the area of Smyth’s Sea on the nearside. (NASA)
Astronaut Neil Armstrong on a one-day Gemini VIII mission in March of 1966. Gemini was a stepping-stone project, working toward the upcoming Apollo missions. (NASA/Space Frontiers/Getty Images) #
Astronaut Neil Armstrong, Apollo 11 mission commander, floats safely to the ground after an accident during a training session on May 6th, 1968. The Lunar Landing Research Vehicle (LLRV) exploded only seconds before while Armstrong was rehearsing a lunar landing at Ellington Air Force Base near the Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC). This photo is an enlargement of a frame from a 16mm documentary motion picture recorded during the mishap. (NASA) #
Neil Armstrong poses for a photograph at the Lunar Landing Research Facility at NASA Langley in Virginia on February 12, 1969. (NASA) #
A technician works atop the white room, through which the astronauts will enter the spacecraft, while other technicians look on from the launch tower at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 11, 1969. (NASA) #
Lift-off of the Saturn V rocket, carrying astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin Jr, along with 6,700,000 pounds (3,039,000 kg) of fuel and equipment into the Florida sky, bound for the Moon, on July 16th, 1969. (NASA) #
A 70mm Airborne Lightweight Optical Tracking System (ALOTS) camera, mounted in a pod on a cargo door of a U.S. Air Force EC-135N aircraft photographed this event in the early moments of the Apollo 11 launch. The mated Saturn V second and third stages pull away from the expended first stage. Separation occurred at an altitude of about 38 miles, some 55 miles downrange from Cape Kennedy. (NASA) #
Looking back over their shoulder, an Apollo astronaut takes a photograph of the Earth during the long translunar coast. The body and some thruster nozzles of the Lunar Module are visible in the foreground. (NASA) #
Most of Africa and portions of Europe and Asia can be seen in this photograph taken from the Apollo 11 spacecraft during its translunar coast toward the moon. Apollo 11 was already 98,000 nautical miles from Earth when this picture was made on July 17th, 1969. (NASA) #
Looking down at the Command and Service Module (center), with the Moon’s surface below, as seen from the now-separated Lunar Module (LM), on its way to the surface. The proiminent crater is Schmidt crater. This is the last photo taken from the LM prior to the powered descent, and eventually the landing one orbit later. (NASA) #
Television footage of the first human footstep on Lunar soil on July 20, 1969. Astronaut Neil Armstrong took these first steps, followed shortly by Buzz Aldrin. This is a reproduction of the television image that was transmitted to the world on July 20th, 1969. (NASA) #
A close-up view of astronaut Buzz Aldrin’s boot and bootprint in the lunar soil, photographed with a 70mm lunar surface camera during the Apollo 11 lunar surface extravehicular activity (EVA) on July 20th, 1969. (NASA) #
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin on his way to the Lunar surface for the LM on July 20th, 1969. (NASA) #
Buzz Aldrin took this picture of Neil Armstrong in the cabin after the completion of the first EVA. This is the face of the first man to set foot on the Moon, just hours earlier, on July 20th, 1969. (NASA) #
From Wikipedia contributor Rufus330Ci: “This is a picture of my mother holding the Washington News Paper on Monday, July 21st 1969 stating ‘The Eagle Has Landed Two Men Walk on the Moon’. The photo was taken by my grandfather Jack Weir (1928-2005)” #
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, photographed by Neil Armstrong (visible in reflection). Buzz Aldrin: “As I walked away from the Eagle Lunar Module, Neil said ‘Hold it, Buzz’, so I stopped and turned around, and then he took what has become known as the ‘Visor’ photo. I like this photo because it captures the moment of a solitary human figure against the horizon of the Moon, along with a reflection in my helmet’s visor of our home away from home, the Eagle, and of Neil snapping the photo. Here we were, farther away from the rest of humanity than any two humans had ever ventured. Yet, in another sense, we became inextricably connected to the hundreds of millions watching us more than 240,000 miles away. In this one moment, the world came together in peace for all mankind.” (quoted with permission from Apollo Through the Eyes of the Astronauts). (NASA) #
Post-deployment documentation photo of the Laser Ranging Retroreflector Experiment (LRRR). For the past 40 years, the retroreflectors were used in conjunction with a dedicated facility at the McDondald Observatory in Texas to accurately measure the distance to the Moon. These experiments discovered, among other things, that the moon is moving away from Earth at a rate of 2.5 inches per year. The National Science Foundation recently terminated funding for the McDonald Laser ranging station, with continued measuements to be made by two other facilities. (NASA) #
Interior view of the Mission Operations Control Room (MOCR) in the Mission Control Center (MCC), Building 30, during the Apollo 11 lunar extravehicular activity (EVA). The television monitor shows astronauts Neil A. Armstrong and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr. on the surface of the moon, July 20, 1969. (NASA) #
After lifting off from the Moon, Eagle approaches the Command Module during rendezvous. Astronaut Michael Collins, who remained on board the Command Module for the entire trip, remembers taking this photograph: “Little by little, they grew closer, steady, as if on rails, and I thought ‘What a beautiful sight,’one that had to be recorded. As I reached for my Hasselblad, suddenly the Earth popped up over the horizon, directly behind Eagle. I could not have staged it any better, but the alignment was not of my doing, just a happy coincidence. I suspect a lot of good photography is like that, some serendipitous happenstance beyond the control of the photographer. But at any rate, as I clicked away, I realized that for the first time, in one frame, appeared three billion earthlings, two explorers, and one moon. The photographer, of course, was discreetly out of view.” (quoted with permission from Apollo Through the Eyes of the Astronauts) (NASA) #
New York City welcomes Apollo 11 crewmen in a showering of ticker tape down Broadway and Park Avenue in a parade termed as the largest in the city’s history on August 13, 1969. Pictured in the lead car, from the right, are astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, commander; Michael Collins, command module pilot; and Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin Jr., lunar module pilot. (NASA) #