45 Years ago today we landed on the Moon for the very first time. The Apollo 11 team of Michael Collins, Neil Armstrong, and Buzz Aldrin took the first “Giant Leap for Mankind” (humankind) putting the first steps of humanity on a world beyond our own; a world characterized in the words of Buzz Aldrin by “Magnificent Desolation.”
There has been a lot of buzz (pun intended) about the 45th anniversary from screenings of the original landing to renewed debates about the moon landing hoax to an AMA by Buzz Aldrin on Reddit which you should check out. There has also been questions about why we have yet to return.
That is a good question. At the same time, we need to remember that since the late 60’s we have learned an incredible deal about space as we currently find ourselves in a Golden Age of Astronomy. We launched the Voyager Probes in the late 70’s which have just recently reached the edge of our solar system and crossed into inter-stellar space. The 80’s saw the dawn of the space shuttle program leaving the legacies of the International Space Station and Hubble Space Telescope. We got MIND BLOWING images in the 90’s from the Sojourner probe, part of the Mars Pathfinder Program when the Internet was first becoming ubiquitous. As a kid growing up in the 90’s where you could actually download images from Mars…amazing. I believe we actually crashed the NASA servers. We have since returned to Mars recently with Curiosity.
In 2009, Hubble, with upgraded ultradeep field cameras, peeled back more of the Universe’s veil to reveal the most distant objects ever seen before. This image would fill a patch of sky no bigger than the tip of a pin when held out at arms length.
And finally, we started to discover NEW worlds confirming the existence of planets outside of our own solar system; worlds that may habour life or past civilizations, future civilizations, Daleks, Doctors, Romulan Ale. We discovered the first planet outside our solar system in 1988. Since that time, the launch of the Kepler Mission in 2009 radically accelerated planet detection bringing the current list of known planets to nearly a thousand with thousands more objects defined as planet candidates. Think about that for a second. In 5 years, we discovered a thousand planets. And with that information, scientists were able to infer that it is likely that there may be as many planets in our galaxy as there are stars….hundreds of billions. Furthermore, the closest planet candidate we have discovered, Alpha Centauri Bb, is right in our neighbour star system at a mere distance of 4.2 light years.
So no, we haven’t returned to the Moon…yet. And we haven’t stepped onto Mars…yet. But from here on Earth, we have opened up the cosmos to a staggering degree. Not only that, but we have done really well in making astronomy a “citizen science;” accessible to the public through projects like Zooniverse where you can literally search for planets on your home computer, social media efforts by astronauts like Chris Hadfield, amazing new TV series like Cosmos and How the Universe Works, astronomy software aids on mobile phones, and the incredible advances in telescope tech that you can own in your backyard now. We may have not taken more small steps towards the cosmos, but our passion for the stars has made the cosmos take a giant leap toward us. Furthermore, we have amazing discoveries to look forward to when the James Webb Space Telescope is launched in 2018 said to clock in at 16 times the power of Hubble. We will literally be able to see the first stars ever formed as we peer back in time to the beginning of time itself.
We can get back to space. We CAN put humans back on the Moon, Mars, and into the deeper solar system. And I believe we will. Between the advent of private (sometimes called “new”) space and a wider population of voters touched by space during this Golden Age of Astronomy, we are fighting on two fronts to put humanity into space once again.
You can check out coverage of the 45 Anniversary of the Moon Landing including video of the original landing at Space.com streamed by NASA. The cast begins at 11:39pm EST today July 20th
Also In celebration of the Moon Landing, I posted one of my moon photos taken by yours truly on an 80mm telescope to be put on a Jones Soda bottle. You can vote for the image to go on the bottle here!
And finally…Buzz Aldrin during the Apollo 11 Moon landing