July 20th is Moon Day, commemorating the day in 1969 when man first walked on the moon.
As part of the Apollo Space Program, initiated by President John F Kennedy, Apollo 11 was the mission that fulfilled the dream of putting man on the moon. Apollo 11, launched on 16 July 1969 with a Saturn V rocket, carried three astronauts, Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin Aldrin, to their historic date with destiny.
On 20 July, lunar module “Eagle” landed on the moon, prompting the first of Neil Armstrong’s famous quotes, “The Eagle has landed”. After touch down, Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the surface of the moon, and millions of people the world over, listening breathlessly, were treated to his second immortal sound bite, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind”. After Armstrong’s pioneering step, Aldrin also got an opportunity to walk on the moon (with much less fanfare), while poor Michael Collins never got the chance, remaining alone in lunar orbit while the Eagle touched down.
The Apollo Space Program, and especially the week of the moon landing, remains one of the most momentous events in modern human history – a time when man felt truly immortal, and capable of anything. Since the historic first landing, five more landings took place between 1969 and 1972, with a total of 12 men experiencing the privilege of landing on the moon. Of course after the thrill of the initial landing, public interest dwindled, and I bet very few people will be able to name the 10 men who landed on the moon after Armstrong and Aldrin.
Since the golden age of moon exploration, from the late Sixties to early Seventies, numerous unmanned moon landings have occurred, including missions from the USA, the Soviet Union, Japan, the European Space Agency, China and India. Of these, most have been planned crash landings, with only the USA and Soviet Union achieving unmanned “soft landings”.
The Google Lunar X Prize competition, aimed at promoting the state of the art in private space exploration, offers a $20 million award for the first privately funded team to land a robotic probe on the Moon.
Of course the moon landing has also become a very popular subject for some elaborate conspiracy theories, with many groups and individuals presenting compelling ‘evidence’ that the landing never happened, and that it was all an elaborately staged hoax by NASA.
But that’s another story…
To celebrate Moon Day, why don’t you kick back and watch your favourite space movie? Or make a playlist of songs about the moon to be the soundtrack to your day.
I’ve got the Cowboy Junkies’ “Blue Moon Revisited” playing in the background, and I think The Waterboys’ “The Whole of the Moon” and Neko Case’s “I Wish I was the Moon” are next – what ‘moon songs’ would you recommend?