Tag: Apollo 11

Neil Armstrong: 1930 – 2012

By Phil Plait | August 25, 2012 1:54 pm

The first human to set foot on another world has died. Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong was 82.

There is so much that can be said about this man, from his incredible career to his notorious shying away from the spotlight. He had history thrust upon him, and performed in a way that will be an inspiration to generations of explorers.

I’ve said many times that we can divide all of history into two parts: before humans landed on the Moon, and after. It was not just an important moment, it was the moment, a defining, crystallizing slice of time that confirmed that we humans had become a space faring race. One world could not and would not contain us, and the sky itself was no longer the limit.

We have had our missteps since that one small step, and we can argue about the directions we are or should be taking. But given what we’ve done, and what we are capable of, I have the spark of hope that the future will look back at July 1969 and recognize it for what it was: the dawn of a new era. The end of homo sapiens terrestrialis and the birth of homo sapiens cosmos.

Neil Armstrong was the human who literally stood at that dividing line.

And I wonder… will there someday be a holiday in his honor? In my mind’s eye I can see people lining the streets, watching parades, talking about that day, smiling and laughing… and all the while, through a quartz window in the dome, the crescent Earth will be hanging in the black sky above them.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: NASA, Piece of mind, Space

Repost: What Apollo means to me

By Phil Plait | July 20, 2012 9:56 am

[I had some fun, light stuff to post today, but after the shooting in Aurora, Colorado – not 60 kilometers away from where I sit – I think I’ll hold off posting them for now.

Instead, let me turn your mind to something bigger than all of us, something more positive. Today marks two milestones in space exploration history: the Viking 1 probe landing on Mars in 1976, and the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon in 1969. The former was the first time we had successfully landed a probe on the Red Planet, and the latter was the first time humans ever set foot on another world. For a lot of my readers, Apollo 11 was ancient history, but to me, it’s personal. This is that story. I posted this originally three years ago, on the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11, but it all is still appropriate. And remember: when we reach, we are capable of great things.]

On July 20, 1969, at 20:17:40 GMT, human beings landed on an alien world.

That was the moment that the Eagle lander touched down on the surface of the Moon, 40 years ago today. Nearly five hours later, at 02:56:15 GMT on July 21, Neil Armstrong placed his boot in the lunar regolith, planting it firmly into history as well.

You can read all about this event and its global and historical impacts all over the web, so I won’t belabor the point here. But the Apollo missions mean something special to me, so forgive me this small indulgence. While the overall significance of the missions is interesting and fun to think about and discuss, the real stories, the ones that sink in, are the personal ones.

I was four when Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins approached the Moon. That’s old enough to form memories of the event, but young enough that those memories are malleable; I have a hard time distinguishing what I actually saw with what I may have seen years later on TV. I seem to vaguely remember sitting on the couch with my family watching the events unfold; even at that age I was in love with science fiction and all things spacey. It’s possible my parents let me stay up late to watch that first step. It would’ve been 11:00 p.m. at our old home. But honestly, I don’t remember.

However, just a wee bit over two years later that changed. In July 1971, my parents rented a Winnebago — a monstrous recreational vehicle — and the whole family piled in so we could road trip down to Cape Canaveral. If all went according to plan, we would be there in time to watch Apollo 15 launch and make its way to the Moon.

I was six, so I remember this much better. The bathroom on the RV smelled overwhelmingly like fruit. My sister taught me that it’s OK to lie when you say something if you cross your fingers while saying it. We stopped to visit friends of my mom’s in South Carolina, and again in Georgia so my oldest brother could check out the Georgia Tech campus before applying there the next year.

I have lots of other memories that are trivial to others but which I cherish. But still and all, we finally reached Kennedy Space Center. I remember touring the area, and I also remember being on the tour bus and getting up pretty close to the Saturn V. I wonder now if that’s a distorted memory; it’s hard to imagine they let tourists get as close as my semi-fuzzy recollection indicates.

And then the day arrived. We parked on the banks of the Banana River and waited for the moment. I wandered off a bit to play on my own (times were different then), and I distinctly remember finding a blue plastic kiddie pool upside down on the river bank. I flipped it over, and a billion mosquitoes exploded out of it! Not too surprisingly, that’s one of the stronger memories I have from that day.

And then the moment finally arrived. I remember nothing of the countdown, but boy oh boy do I remember the launch. A man next to me had a camera that he was frantically snapping away with; I remember the noise of the shutter and him winding it, trying to keep up with the rocket lifting off into the sky miles away.

I can still picture the mighty Saturn V as it punched upward. It was magnificent, and even at the age of six I had some idea of what this all meant. I stood there, clutching the little scale model rocket my parents bought me on the KSC tour in one hand, and the blue plastic figurine of an Apollo astronaut standing on the Moon I had in the other. I still remember bringing that plastic model to school for show-and-tell when we got back home.

That memory of the launch is a powerful one for me even today, all these years later. I asked my dad years later what motivated him and mom to pack the whole family up into that RV and take us down there. He replied that it was something he thought we should all see. It was history being made in front of us, and not something you get a chance to see very often.

I asked him that for another reason. My father was a quality control engineer, and did a lot of government contract work. In fact — and this makes me proud, let me tell ya — he worked on the quality control for the astronauts’ food program. I don’t know what precisely he did for the program, to be honest, but he was involved for some time. I know he did some work on the packaging, including the freeze-dried food and the spaghetti the astronauts took with them. That’s why I asked him why we went to see the launch; I wondered if it was because the trip was work-related for him. But it wasn’t. He and mom wanted to share with us the sheer joy and wonder of humanity’s first tentative journey away from Earth.

We should all strive to be such people.

Years later, when my father died, my mom asked all us kids if we wanted any of his books or other items. I stood in front of his bookshelf, admiring the many texts on codebreaking, mathematics, the history of cryptography. He was fascinated by these topics, and was something of a dabbler in math; a formula he invented is published in the CRC handbook used by grad students across the planet.

My eyes fell on a magazine I hadn’t seen before; it was a 25th anniversary retrospective of Apollo. I opened it up, and to my surprise, found this picture:

That’s Apollo 12 astronaut Pete Conrad, the third man to walk on the Moon. Clearly, dad must’ve met him and talked about the food program. Conrad had a great sense of humor, and signed the picture appropriately.

My dad was a major reason I’m a scientist now, and helped instill in me and all my siblings a love of science and space. My memories of Apollo are inextricably entangled with memories of my father from back then too. So to me, Apollo is personal.

I can take a mental step back and look at the whole picture: what that one small step meant, how it inspired a planet, what NASA did that day, and even how its faltered in many ways since then. But sometimes the real story, the human story, is the first-person account of events.

That’s how it plays in my head when I picture that hot July day in 1971, and that mental film is always running when I write about Apollo. It may not be at the forefront of my mind, but it’s there. Even without it I might still be inspired to write what I do. And though I strongly doubt it, I suppose it’s remotely possible that I’d still be where I am today without having had my parents expose me directly to space travel.

But they did. And I’m a better man for having it as a part of me.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: NASA, Piece of mind, Science
MORE ABOUT: Apollo 11, Pete Conrad

Memorial Day 2012

By Phil Plait | May 28, 2012 7:00 am

[Note: Today is Memorial Day, a US tradition where we remember the contributions of those in the military who have fallen. Yesterday, I was thinking about what to write about it. My dad was in the Navy just after World War II, but I wasn’t sure what to write about that. I decided to put the idea aside for a time, since I have a deadline for an article I’m writing about space exploration. While looking up old blog posts for that, I happened by coincidence on something I wrote three years ago, on July 20, 2009, the 40th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11. I am reposting it below. For reasons that will be clear if you read the whole thing, I don’t think there’s more I could say on this day.]


On July 20, 1969, at 20:17:40 GMT, human beings landed on an alien world.

That was the moment that the Eagle lander touched down on the surface of the Moon, 40 years ago today. Nearly five hours later, at 02:56:15 GMT on July 21, Neil Armstrong placed his boot in the lunar regolith, planting it firmly into history as well.

You can read all about this event and its global and historical impacts all over the web, so I won’t belabor the point here. But the Apollo missions mean something special to me, so forgive me this small indulgence. While the overall significance of the missions is interesting and fun to think about and discuss, the real stories, the ones that sink in, are the personal ones.

I was four when Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins approached the Moon. That’s old enough to form memories of the event, but young enough that those memories are malleable; I have a hard time distinguishing what I actually saw with what I may have seen years later on TV. I seem to vaguely remember sitting on the couch with my family watching the events unfold; even at that age I was in love with science fiction and all things spacey. It’s possible my parents let me stay up late to watch that first step. It would’ve been 11:00 p.m. at our old home. But honestly, I don’t remember.

However, just a wee bit over two years later that changed. In July 1971, my parents rented a Winnebago — a monstrous recreational vehicle — and the whole family piled in so we could road trip down to Cape Canaveral. If all went according to plan, we would be there in time to watch Apollo 15 launch and make its way to the Moon.

I was six, so I remember this much better. The bathroom on the RV smelled overwhelmingly like fruit. My sister taught me that it’s OK to lie when you say something if you cross your fingers while saying it. We stopped to visit friends of my mom’s in South Carolina, and again in Georgia so my oldest brother could check out the Georgia Tech campus before applying there the next year.

I have lots of other memories that are trivial to others but which I cherish. But still and all, we finally reached Kennedy Space Center. I remember touring the area, and I also remember being on the tour bus and getting up pretty close to the Saturn V. I wonder now if that’s a distorted memory; it’s hard to imagine they let tourists get as close as my semi-fuzzy recollection indicates.

And then the day arrived. We parked on the banks of the Banana River and waited for the moment. I wandered off a bit to play on my own (times were different then), and I distinctly remember finding a blue plastic kiddie pool upside down on the river bank. I flipped it over, and a billion mosquitoes exploded out of it! Not too surprisingly, that’s one of the stronger memories I have from that day.

And then the moment finally arrived. I remember nothing of the countdown, but boy oh boy do I remember the launch. A man next to me had a camera that he was frantically snapping away with; I remember the noise of the shutter and him winding it, trying to keep up with the rocket lifting off into the sky miles away.

I can still picture the mighty Saturn V as it punched upward. It was magnificent, and even at the age of six I had some idea of what this all meant. I stood there, clutching the little scale model rocket my parents bought me on the KSC tour in one hand, and the blue plastic figurine of an Apollo astronaut standing on the Moon I had in the other. I still remember bringing that plastic model to school for show-and-tell when we got back home.

That memory of the launch is a powerful one for me even today, all these years later. I asked my dad years later what motivated him and mom to pack the whole family up into that RV and take us down there. He replied that it was something he thought we should all see. It was history being made in front of us, and not something you get a chance to see very often.

I asked him that for another reason. My father was a quality control engineer, and did a lot of government contract work. In fact — and this makes me proud, let me tell ya — he worked on the quality control for the astronauts’ food program. I don’t know what precisely he did for the program, to be honest, but he was involved for some time. I know he did some work on the packaging, including the freeze-dried food and the spaghetti the astronauts took with them. That’s why I asked him why we went to see the launch; I wondered if it was because the trip was work-related for him. But it wasn’t. He and mom wanted to share with us the sheer joy and wonder of humanity’s first tentative journey away from Earth.

We should all strive to be such people.

Years later, when my father died, my mom asked all us kids if we wanted any of his books or other items. I stood in front of his bookshelf, admiring the many texts on codebreaking, mathematics, the history of cryptography. He was fascinated by these topics, and was something of a dabbler in math; a formula he invented is published in the CRC handbook used by grad students across the planet.

My eyes fell on a magazine I hadn’t seen before; it was a 25th anniversary retrospective of Apollo. I opened it up, and to my surprise, found this picture:

That’s Apollo 12 astronaut Pete Conrad, the third man to walk on the Moon. Clearly, dad must’ve met him and talked about the food program. Conrad had a great sense of humor, and signed the picture appropriately.

My dad was a major reason I’m a scientist now, and helped instill in me and all my siblings a love of science and space. My memories of Apollo are inextricably entangled with memories of my father from back then too. So to me, Apollo is personal.

I can take a mental step back and look at the whole picture: what that one small step meant, how it inspired a planet, what NASA did that day, and even how its faltered in many ways since then. But sometimes the real story, the human story, is the first-person account of events.

That’s how it plays in my head when I picture that hot July day in 1971, and that mental film is always running when I write about Apollo. It may not be at the forefront of my mind, but it’s there. Even without it I might still be inspired to write what I do. And though I strongly doubt it, I suppose it’s remotely possible that I’d still be where I am today without having had my parents expose me directly to space travel.

But they did. And I’m a better man for having it as a part of me.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: NASA, Piece of mind

Apollo 11 descends to the Google Moon

By Phil Plait | September 28, 2011 10:16 am

This is pretty neat: an Apollo enthusiast who goes by the handle GoneToPlaid has created a video comparing the Apollo 11 footage of its descent to the Moon with images from Google Moon:

That’s very cool. You can see the same features in the Apollo 11 film footage and in the newer view from Google Moon, which uses images from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter as well as Japan’s Kaguya mission. The lighting was different so sometimes it makes features hard to spot in both — direct sunlight changes shadows, and also creates a spotlight effect which can hide craters and such — but you can see how well everything lines up. GoneToPlaid provides a link to the KMZ files you can use for Google Moon to check this out for yourself as well.

This won’t convince people who think NASA faked the landings, of course, nor do I really care. What I do care about is how this brings home what the astronauts did all those decades ago. Going to the Moon was hard; it’s another world, with all the dangers and unknowns and difficult terrains that made it necessary to explore it before we went, and to do so once again in preparation for going back. Hopefully sometime soon.

Tip o’ the spacesuit visor to Scott Hall. Image credit: NASA.


Related posts:

One Giant Leap seen again
Apollo 17, then and now
LRO spots Apollo landing sites in high res
APOLLO LANDING SITES IMAGED BY LRO!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, NASA, Pretty pictures, Space
MORE ABOUT: Apollo 11, Google Moon, LRO

Super slo mo Apollo, yo

By Phil Plait | April 30, 2010 11:59 am

In the Very Cool Department…

My friend Mark Gray from SpaceCraftFilms narrates this film, showing the Apollo 11 Saturn V liftoff using a high-speed camera. I’ve seen this clip about eight bazillion times over the years, but Mark gives the details of what’s happening, providing insight I wasn’t aware of.

The cool thing about this, to me, is the fact that it’s so familiar, but there’s still so much to know about it! And it goes to show you: sending rockets into space is, well, rocket science.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, NASA, Space

365 Days of Astronomy shoots the Moon

By Phil Plait | March 18, 2010 11:57 am
365 Days of Astronomy podcast

My friend Eran Segev, an Aussie skeptic and all-around good guy, submitted a podcast to 365 Days of Astronomy dealing with the venerable Parkes radio dish and its support of the Apollo 11 Moon landing. It’s a good story — it was fictionalized in the very cute movie "The Dish" — and he interviews a couple of the men who were there during the whole thing. And if you listen to the whole thing, they mention a familiar name, too…

CATEGORIZED UNDER: About this blog, NASA, Skepticism

Moon in the Mirror

By Phil Plait | January 27, 2010 7:30 am

You may know me as a buster of the Moon landing hoax claims, debunking the dumbosity of people who think the Apollo missions were faked.

But I have been leaked a picture that makes it clear that the truth behind Apollo was far, far bigger than anyone has ever suspected. In fact, it’s a real Thriller.

Reader Dan Brennan from the Unmanned Space Flight bulletin board sent this picture to me:

wechoosethemoon_jackson

It’s a shot from Apollo 11 of Buzz Aldrin in the command module, a screen capture from the amazing (but Flash-heavy) site We Choose the Moon. Before I even read the content of Dan’s email I knew what he wanted to show me. Can you see it? Look just to the right of Buzz, at what should be a gauge on the control panel… but actually shows what looks for all the world (well, all the cis-lunar space) like Michael Jackson!

In fact, I think it is Michael Jackson.

jackson_apolloThe evidence is overwhelming. Sure, he looks like he’s wearing an eyepatch, but given his wardrobe choices over the years, is an eyepatch all that unlikely? And look at this picture for comparison — my Photoshop skillz are unmatched (happily for millions of satisfied Adobe customers). The resemblance is too strong to be coincidence.

So what’s the deal? You might think that Buzz was a fan, so he had a picture of Jackson taped to the console — though Michael was only about 11 when our first mission to the Moon launched, so that’s silly. The gauge in the panel is visible in other images, and you can tell there’s a glass cover on it. That means the face is not taped on, but is in fact a reflection!

The conclusion is clear. What’s going on here, obviously, is that a time-traveling Michael Jackson stowed away aboard the Apollo 11 capsule to experience the mission for himself.

I mean, c’mon. How do you think he learned how to moonwalk?

Shamone!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Humor, NASA, Pareidolia

Top Ten Astronomy Pictures of 2009

By Phil Plait | December 15, 2009 6:00 am

Every year, this gets harder.

Not that deciding what pictures to use in 2006, 2007, or 2008 was all that easy! But astronomy is such a beautiful science. Of course it has scientific appeal: the biggest questions fall squarely into its lap. Where did this all begin? How will it end? How did we get here? People used to look to the stars asking those questions, and coincidentally, for the most part, that’s where the answers lie. And we’ll be asking them for a long time to come.

But astronomy is so visually appealing as well! Colorful stars, wispy, ethereal nebulae, galactic vistas sprawling out across our telescopes… it’s art no matter how you look at it. And our techniques for viewing the heavens gets better every year; our telescopes get bigger, our cameras more sensitive, and our robotic probes visit distant realms, getting close-up shots that remind us that these are not just planets and moons; they’re worlds.

So every year the flood of imagery takes longer to sort through, and far longer to choose from. And the choices were really tough! This year leans a bit more toward planetary images than usual, but that’s not surprising given how many spacecraft we have out there these days.

I don’t pick all these images for their sheer beauty; I consider what they mean, what we’ve learned from them, and their impact as well. But have no doubts that they are all magnificent examples of the intersection of art and science. At the bottom of each post is a link to the original source and to my original post on the topic, if there is one. If you disagree with my picks, or think I’ve missed something, put a link in the comments! All the pictures have descriptions, and are clickable to bring you to (in most cases) much higher resolution version. So embiggen away!

And welcome to my annual Top Ten Astronomy Pictures post. Enjoy.

ENTER THE TOP TEN GALLERY

 

One Giant Leap seen again

By Phil Plait | November 9, 2009 8:35 pm

Let me show you something. And when I say "something", I mean something.

onegiantleap

See the red arrow, and where it’s pointing? That arrow is pointing to a place that changed humanity forever. You can divide all of history between the time before and the time after what happened where that arrow points.

You see, that arrow is pointing to the spot, the very spot, where Neil Armstrong became the first human to step on another world.

Yeah.

This image is from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, and it shows the Apollo 11 landing site. We’ve seen it before, but this time LRO is in its 50 km mapping orbit, so the resolution on this image is far higher — about 50 or so centimeters (20 inches). In this image, the tracks made by Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin as they scampered on the Moon for 2 hours and 31 minutes are obvious. You can even see the lander footpads, each just less than a meter (a bit over a yard) across.

The bright spots south of (below) the lander are various scientific packages they installed, including the Lunar Ranging Retro Reflector and the Passive Seismic Experiment. If I’ve got the scale right, the faint dark trail going to the upper left is where they put the TV camera. Somewhere between that and the lander is the flag. The Sun was shining straight down in this image, so the flag isn’t visible.

The image above is only one part of a bigger shot:

lro_apollo11overview

That big feature to the right is West crater. As the astronauts rode the lunar lander down to the surface, Armstrong saw that the computer was going to put them down right in the rubble field west (left) of the crater. He took control, and with literally seconds of fuel left, put the lander safely down where you see it in this image. His cool hand saved the mission; had they landed among the rubble the lander could have hit a boulder, or landed so lopsided they would not have been able to take off again.

Note the picture’s scalebar. If this were the Earth, you could stroll across this image in maybe 10 minutes. Encumbered as they were in their spacesuits, and lacking time, Armstrong and Aldrin never got very far, and certainly not to West crater. Pity; it’s interesting. Look at the rubble around it! Those boulders which almost wiped out our first attempt to land on the Moon must have been excavated by the impact, and would have provided instant insight into the Moon’s deeper layers.

Of course, we went back five more times. There was plenty of interplanetary booty to be nabbed.

I love these pictures from LRO! I’ve waited for years to be able to see images like this, and they are just as I imagined them. And they come at a propitious time, when the fate of our exploration of space is changing rapidly, and decisions on its future are to be made. It’s at just this time we most need to be reminded of what we can do when we strive for what seems to be impossible, and when we set our sights, quite literally, beyond the horizon.

Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, NASA, Pretty pictures
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