Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Moon Landing

Continuing learnalittle’s WEEK OF SPACE, we explore the exploration of the moon.

Before getting to getting to the moon, let’s consider the context behind one of man’s coolest accomplishments. Lunar exploration was the ultimate goal of the Space Race, an unofficial – yet high stakes – competition between the US and Soviet Union to be the world leader in technology. The Space Race itself is one of the most visible aspects of the Cold War, a fifty-year period of governmental, cultural and military tension between the two above-mentioned nations.

Initially, the Soviet Union stayed one step ahead of the US, first to launch an artificial satellite, Sputnik (1957); recover living animals that had travelled in space (1951); put a man into orbit (1961); reach the moon with an unmanned rocket (1959); and successfully land a photo-taking probe robot on the lunar surface (1966). To surpass Soviet success, the US launched the Apollo Program in 1961, considerably increasing NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) funding and resources.

After an initial series of unmanned module tests, disaster struck on 27 January 1967, when the three crewmembers of Apollo 1 – the first manned mission of the Apollo project – were killed in a cabin fire during a launch test rehearsal. After tightening safety procedures, the Apollo project continued. Apollo 7 (1968) tested the successful redesign of the US spacecraft, while Apollo 8 (1968), 9 (1969), and 10 (1969) orbited the moon itself and tested the capacities of the Lunar Module that would safely place astronauts on the moon’s surface. Finally, on 16 July 1969, Apollo 11 became the first successful manned moon landing. Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin were the first men to walk on the lunar surface, while Michael Collins manned the main capsule that would return them to earth. The US landed five additional missions to the moon; Apollo 17 (1972) is – to this day – man’s last journey to the lunar surface.

In 2001, national skepticism of the moon landings broke out after the Fox network aired Conspiracy Theory: Did We Land on the Moon? The program implied photographs from the landing were both doctored, and showed telltale signs that the “moonwalk” was staged. Skepticism about the moon landing is nothing new; the first book on the topic was published only two years after the Apollo 17 mission. Since then, NASA and many non-government experts have debunked all claims that the landings were faked. The conspiracists “evidence” is based mainly on low-quality reproductions of original moon photographs or shoddy understanding of the physics of the moon’s surface. Despite this thorough debunking, several 2009 polls reflect 25% of respondents doubt the moon landings ever took place. When skeptics persist in the face of such overwhelming supporting evidence, it begs the question: What is greater: humanity’s capacity for exploration and innovation, or it’s tendency towards cynicism and doubt?

Source: 1, 2, 3, 4