NIRMAL BETCHOO

Celebrating the Golden Jubilee of man walking on the moon is a treasured event that fills humanity with passion beyond bounds. Neil Armstrong, the first man to land on 20th July 1969 stated that ‘setting foot on the moon was one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind’ [1]. It was Apollo 11 that had the mission of bringing National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) astronauts to the moon on a 22-hour mission from the United Sates spatial base, Kennedy Space Centre, Florida [2]. Three names became popular worldwide: Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin both who walked on the moon’s surface along with Michael Collins who was in the spacecraft.
In the 50th celebration year of moon landing by humans, this paper finds it glorious to offer to its readers four covers of magazines that heralded the memorable and magnificent landing published just after the event. ‘Time’ with its trade mark red border,’ National Geographic’ with its archetypal yellow border and ‘Plain Truth’ with a blue border along with ‘Newsweek’ magazine, all offered colour pictures of the event along with so many other publications. This lunar ascent brought a sudden curiosity among people all over the world regarding space exploration and astronomy. Prior to that, Yuri Gagarin’s space flight in the ‘Vostok-1’ remained the most significant achievement of man in space [3].
Space exploration developed after World War II when technological progress expanded from the automotive industry to consumer households while advanced technology became an imperative in emerging sectors like aviation and the sciences. Technological prowess remained within the parameters of rich nations but superpowers like the ex-Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) and the United States aimed at maintaining supremacy in space exploration. There was constant debate since the 1960s regarding the financial investment in the space race and growing concerns about a booming population in the developing world and upcoming issues like food security, poverty and diseases.
While the world was split in two major blocs namely the capitalist and the command economy along with a new group called the ‘non-aligned movement’ created by former presidents Nehru (India) and Tito (ex-Yugoslavia), there was ongoing competition between the superpowers [4]. Military spending was in full expansion due to wars that cropped up after WWII namely the Indo-China war (1962), the Vietnam war (1967) and constant warfare in the disputed borders between Egypt and Israel. War occurrences shaped the Cold War with constant movements of warships and submarines across the oceans. To attain another height of supremacy, space war became the new theatre of contest between the USA and ex-USSR.
This perspective triggered well-known US president, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, to utter that his country’s mission was to send man on the moon before the end of the decade. This was something daunting but not unattainable due to the fact that space engines had been constantly improved to move around the orbit and explore the solar system. Marvels in technology enabled astronomers to discover Pluto—now a dwarf planet by the 1930s and to ask probing questions on the ‘milky path’ and the galaxies. There were also new questions raised regarding the ‘black hole’ later championed by British physician, Stephen Hawkins.
The 1960s might be then well considered as the decade of space conquest. Science developed across the world with secondary or high schools teaching physical sciences and bringing scientific knowledge on space exploration to students. Concepts like ‘weightlessness’, ‘gravitational pull’ and ‘potential energy’ became better understood due to satellite’s positioning in the orbit where they could remain fixed for a certain time. Such positioning allowed satellites to take impressive pictures of the Earth and make scientific weather forecasts with higher levels of accuracy.
The NASA aimed at furthering space exploration through keener study and investigation of planets. Gigantic telescopes were constantly developed with tiny mirrors, powerful lenses and motorised movements to get clearer pictures of the planets namely the Moon, Venus—the second brightest planet in the sky, Jupiter and its four moons as well as minor planets, comets, asteroids, etc. In doing so, the idea of landing on the moon burgeoned through the hypothesis that the atmospheric and landing conditions on the moon were possible for human beings.
There were also the key findings regarding similarities between the Earth and the Moon whereby both planets are in the solar system, they commonly have gravity, craters, tectonic activity and rocks. Another hypothesis stated that there was a big impact known as the ‘Theia impact’ stating that the Moon formed out of a debris left from a collision between Earth and a planet as large as Mars some 4.5 billion years ago [6]. Another recent study mentioned that the Moon and Earth have formed together bringing a possibility of certain similar conditions on both planets.
With all assumptions made and constantly verified during the sprightly decade of space exploration in the 1960s, the perspective of propulsion of spacecraft was sought whereby it could go further in the orbit, leave the troposphere and head towards the thermosphere and reach the moon. This might have been a fantastic discovery and evolution while both the USA and ex-USSR kept funding their space dream to show their superiority.
Moon landing was broadcast internationally with rich countries getting live images. This was possible through direct transmission from the Moon with three stations—two located in Australia and one in California [7]. Still the fact that moon landing in grainy black and white footage was live broadcast is still meddled with fake news emphasising a montage rather than clear broadcast from a planet 238,855 miles away from Earth [8]. Nevertheless, the images brought either through television or the press created rapture among people who could barely imagine that triumphant walk on the moon.
An important happening had already taken place. That was the pictures taken of the Earth by William Anders in 1968, from Apollo 8 mission, from the lunar orbit in complete darkness [9]. Earthrise was the phenomenon that was made known to ‘terriens’, French term for inhabitants of the Earth where the globe was envisioned as a blue planet known as the marble planet. From this standpoint, Earthrise was a miracle perceived by humanity and unknown so far. Aldrin was himself mesmerised in 1969 by this exceptional encounter in seeing the only planet where life exists and such beauty spoke a lot of the Earth’s vulnerability and the need to cast a new eye on its sustainability for mankind.
After 1969, there were more missions on the moon and some eleven astronauts landed there. Apollo 17 Saturn V concluded the mission to Moon by December 1972 and scientists spoke of mission to Mars by the 1980s [10]. The probe is still ongoing. Fantasy and engagement in space knowledge spurred worldwide. Movies like ‘Star Trek’ and ‘Star Wars’ earlier sparked curiosity of the astronomy by enthralling millions of viewers. The question remains as such: Are we alone? Hopefully, not so alone as our heroes back on 20th July 1969, for the love of exploration, knowledge and science. Man walked on the moon, 50 years ago. An exceptional lunar ascent thou shall not forget…

References

[1] Daily Mail (2012) ‘That’s one small step for ‘a’ man’: Armstrong claimed his famous mankind speech was misquoted, 24th September 2012.
[2] Armstrong, G. (1969) On to the Galaxies, The Plain Truth.
[3] Yurirgagarin50.org (2011) 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s flight in space, http://yurigagarin50.org/history/gagarins-flight.
[4] Wikipedia: Jawaharlal Nehru, Nasser and Tito at the Conference of Non-Aligned Nations held in Belgrade.
[5] Universe-Galaxies (2005) Solar system houses a sun – eight planets and three dwarf planets, www.universe-galaxies-stars.com.
[6] Science and Astronomy (2014) How the Moon Formed: Lunar Rocks Support Giant Impact Theory, https://www.space.com.
[7] Immediate Media (2019) Apollo 11 on TV: how NASA filmed the moonlanding, https://www.skyatnightmagazine.com.
[8] Loffhagen, M, (2018) NASA Photo Shows the Vast Distance Between the Earth and Moon, https://www.outerplaces.com.
[9] Overbye, D. (2018) Apollo’s 8 Earthrise, The New York Times.
[10] Lunsford, C. (2017) Apollo 17: NASA’s Last Apollo Moon Landing Mission in Pictures, https://www.space.com.