The first moon landing

By Nirmala Pebam

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Mankind has always been fascinated with the sky and the celestial bodies like the moon, stars etc. On October 4,1957, for the first time in history, humans were able to send an object into space. Sputnik 1 of the USSR became the first artificial satellite to be placed in orbit. The launch of Sputnik prompted the foundation of NASA by the Americans marking the beginning of the space race between the US and the USSR. America responded by launching Explorer 1, the first American satellite into space on January 31, 1958. On April 12,1961, Yuri Gagarin from the USSR became the first person to go in space.    

On May 25, 1961 , to boost America’s confidence, the then US President John F. Kennedy addressed the need of the nation to achieve the goal of landing a man on the moon by the end of the decade and returning him safely to the earth. America was desperate to establish their superiority over the Soviets by landing the moon and planting the US flag on the surface of the moon.                                                                                                                                                

On July 16, 1969, millions of people around the world watched as Apollo 11, carrying astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins launched from Cape Kennedy, Florida. It was the result of years of preparation and research and the pinnacle moment of the so-called ‘space race’ between the US and Soviet Union. Over 400,000 workers were involved in launching Apollo 11 and it cost over 24 billion dollars. The hope of the entire nation was riding on this mission.

The Apollo spacecraft was divided into three parts: the lunar module, the service module and the command module. For three days, Apollo coasted through space until it finally reached its target and was pulled into orbit by the moon’s gravity.

While Michael Collins continued to circle the moon in the command module called ‘Columbia’, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin transferred to the lunar module named ‘Eagle’ and descended towards the moon’s surface. Descending towards the moon’s surface wasn’t smooth. The autopilot of the lunar module was directing the module to land on a huge crater about the size of a football stadium with steep slopes on the crater and large rocks about the size of automobiles, which was not a reasonable landing spot. Armstrong took over the autopilot and looked for a safe place to land but the detour cost them precious fuel and they were about to run out.

On July 20, 1969, mission commander Neil Armstrong and pilot Buzz Aldrin successfully landed the lunar module on the moon. Armstrong and Aldrin walked around for hours conducting experiments on the moon. Carrying the two astronauts, the lunar module finally takes off from the moon and joins the command module. After Armstrong and Aldrin transferred back into the command module, the three astronauts began the two and a half day journey home. The three heroes returned safely to earth on July 24, 1969.

The moon landing was a big boost to advance science and the US prowess in the field of technology. It was a great inspiration to NASA as it worked on the Orion spacecraft and the future of Mars exploration.

Many myths surrounded the first moon landing. Conspiracy theorists claimed that the first moon landing was fake and that it was shot on a secret studio in Hollywood or a remote military base.

Non believers claim that the flag is flying and appears to flap but there is no wind on the moon. To debunk this myth, experts have claimed that scientists have put a support on the flag so that it stays unfurled even without the help of the wind. Without any mechanism or support, the flag would appear limp and that wasn’t a good image.

Conspiracy theorists have claimed that the lighting on the photo of Buzz Aldrin in the lunar module’s shadow is wrong. The moon’s surface is very uneven and reflective. This unevenness makes the moon reflect light all over the place. This is why Buzz Aldrin isn’t completely shrouded in darkness even if he is in the shadow of the lunar module.

Another myth was that the radiation in the van Allen belts would have killed the astronauts. The astronauts were exposed to the radiation for only a short amount of time that the spacecraft was enough to protect them.

One more myth was that there was no sight of stars in the black photographs. The reason is the limited exposure range. Unlike our eyes, cameras can only take in only a certain amount of light.

The first moon landing is real. Thousands of engineers were involved in the designing and developing the rocket. There were people testing in the labs. There is a whole organization working to launch Apollo 11 and it is not just the astronauts involved in it. It will be easier to go to the moon than to fake it.  

As Neil Armstrong stepped down the ladder from the lunar module, he declared his famous quote, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”. The Apollo mission was accomplished thanks to the three heroes and  all the 400,000 people involved in the project.

It was not a proud moment for only the Americans but for people all over the world. This mission brought the people of the world closer together. The spirit of Apollo transcended geographical barriers and political differences. The first moon landing shows that with effort and resilience, one can achieve anything. Before the first moon landing, this feat was seen as something impossible, something out of a science fiction. But in 1969 when technology wasn’t as advanced  as in the present, man was able to set foot on the moon.

By Nirmala Pebam

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