Home‎ > ‎Current Affairs‎ > ‎News‎ > ‎

The Moon, the first frontier

publicado a la‎(s)‎ 22 jul 2019, 8:16 por Plataforma Sites Dgac   [ actualizado el 24 ago 2020, 13:22 ]
The discovery of America, on October 12, 1492, was one of the events that marked the history of Humankind and that will last forever, as it led to the discovery of a “new world” with hitherto unknown cultures.

The Apollo XI astronauts 50 years ago.

The Crawler and the Saturn V rocket.

The Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). At its side there can be seen the Crawler and the Saturn V rocket.

The Apolo I crew.

Armstrong, Collins and Aldrin, the astronauts from the Apollo XI mission in a quarantine after returning to the Earth.

Communications equipment, reflective mirror and Eagle craft.

Moon walk and rover from the Apollo XVI mission. Over the astronaut there can be seen two reflections (flares) due to a photograph taken with backlight.

Rover from the Apollo XVII mission rolling on the Moon's surface.

Mars, the next goal.

Próxima Centauri is the closest star to the Solar System.
The trip to the Moon, immortalized by Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin on July 20, 1969, was another milestone for Humankind that ushered in the Age of Space Exploration, comparable in significance to the adventurous journey of Christopher Columbus. 

According to the numerous articles written by space historians, such as Roger D. Launius, more than 400 thousand people took part in the Apollo project that ended with six missions and 12 men traveling through part of the lunar landscape between 1969 and 1972. 

It was a colossal effort initiated thanks to the political will of President John Kennedy, who on May 25, 1961, speaking in front of the Congress in Washington, DC, announced that the United States could send an astronaut to the Moon before the end of that decade.

It was a decision that can be understood within the scenario of the “Cold War” that marked the relations between the two great powers, the United States and the Soviet Union, from 1947 to 1991. 

The competition to demonstrate the success of both systems also reached the sphere of science and technology, motivating the birth of the so-called space race that was led by the Soviets from 1957 to 1963. 

The launching of the first satellite, Sputnik 1, on October 4, 1957; the launch into space of the first living being, Laika the dog, a month later; and Yury Gagari becoming the first human being to fly into the cosmos on April 12, 1961, marked unprecedented successes that spurred the United States Government to create a space program that would overshadow the Soviet triumphs. Thus was born the Apollo project. 

A great challenge

It was not easy for scientists, engineers, specialists and thousands of professionals to get involved body and soul in developing a space program that was presented as a dream.

It was, in practice, one of the greatest challenges for Humankind in a decade when the Internet, cell phones, mathematical models and computers with the capabilities they have today, 50 years later, did not yet exist. 

It was a titanic task in which NASA and the North American private company worked together. Four years and more than $800 millions dollars of that time were needed to build the Apollo program facilities at the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, and John F. Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Thus were born the buildings that housed monitoring stations, medical care, a quarantine area for astronauts who would return from the Moon, training areas, simulators, laboratories and the Mission Control Center in Houston.

In Cape Canaveral, Florida, the Vehicle Assembly Building was built and it was the largest building in the world at the time; two launch towers and the huge “Crawler” tractor of colossal dimensions that would transport the gigantic Saturn IB and Saturn V rockets upright from the assembly building to their launch site. 

The latter has been the most powerful rocket ever built. With a height of 111 meters and a thrust of its three stages capable of launching 126 tons into orbit, a force equivalent to lifting some 40 double cab pickups and placing them in orbit over 400 kilometers from the Earth. 

The martyrs 

It was, no doubt, a colossal enterprise in which thousands of men and women worked with an extraordinary motivation only comparable to the realization of a great dream. 

Not counting their backups, a total of 30 astronauts were part of the Apollo missions to the Moon.

History will also remember three Apollo 1 martyrs, who died on February 21, 1967, while testing the first ship after the capsule caught fire in one of the Cape Canaveral launch towers. 

Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee are names that the people of the United States and Humankind honor for giving their lives in favor of space exploration and for having ultimately improved the spacecraft that would safely transport the first men to the Moon. 

36 thousand people 

Since that day in May 1961, more than 36 thousand officials of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and some 350 subcontracting companies put in motion a “machinery” of ingenuity, effort, technology and work that resulted in the design of one of the most powerful rockets ever built by man: the Saturn V, a colossal propulsion system that was 111 meters high, weighed 2,700 tons and consumed no less than 15 tons of fuel per second.

Today, two of those powerful rockets are on display at the John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson Space Centers, as well as replicas of the lunar modules. 

Devising a trip to the moon was, in the sixties, a program that had epic characteristics and dimensions, especially if you think that Armstrong, Aldrin and the ten astronauts who stepped on the moon later would have given anything for having at least one laptop with the capacity and speed of the ones we use today to support each of the complex flight maneuvers, from takeoff from Cape Canaveral to landing on the Moon.

Not to mention the wonders they could have done using measurement, sample analysis and laboratory equipment, as well as digital photographic and video cameras with extraordinary capabilities that are now available to institutions and anyone. 

The crews of the Apollo missions tested “state-of-the-art” systems for the time, which later resulted in scanners, special compounds, life support systems, communications, computing, thrusters, power, robotics and medical procedures that are used today as something common even in the most remote places on the planet and in our country, helping to improve the quality of life of the population. 

A new world 

50 years ago, two astronauts marked the beginning of the exploration of new worlds. 

Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin will remain in the memory of a civilization that today spurs governmental and private efforts to leave what has been our home for the last 125 thousand years. 

A dream come true 

On July 20, 1969, after almost nine years of colossal efforts developing the technology necessary to take three men to the Moon, the dream of scientists, engineers, researchers, and thousands of dreamers and lovers of science fiction came true as their aspirations were crowned when the “Eagle” landed in the Sea of Tranquility, no less than 380 thousand kilometers away from Earth.

Wernher von Braun, who was one of the fathers of Astronautics and one of the authors of this feat, said in those years: “This moment is so transcendent that it is only comparable to the importance of the moment when aquatic life began to crawl towards Earth”.

The minute Neil Armstrong put his foot on the lunar surface, stamping on the collective consciousness the phrase “a small step for man, but a gigantic step for Mankind,” the speech and goal proposed by the assassinated President of the United States of America, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, on May 25, 1961, began to materialize.

Building the future 

The Apollo Program created opportunities to exercise not only the imagination, but also the vision of the future of those who exercise political power and have the responsibility to lead the destinies of the countries.

It also stimulated thousands of professionals in science, services, sports, medicine, education and a not inconsiderable number of children and adolescents who followed the moon landing on television, awakening their curiosity and dreams of exploring new worlds.

The society of tomorrow is built today. This was assumed, with all its implications, by countries such as the United States, Russia, Japan, China, India and the European Community. 

If we want our young people to be protagonists -not spectators- of the changes in science and in our society, it is necessary not only to design and build State policies aimed at providing opportunities in education and motivation, but also to provide new horizons of human projection. 

A new age

From the perspective of perfecting and motivating potential and virtues, with the clear and inalienable objectives of improving the quality of life and working to protect the environment of this tiny world, space exploration offers unsuspected opportunities for those who wish to channel their lives in search of solutions and the development of the exact and social sciences.

The program to the Moon ended with the Apollo XVII mission, with astronauts Eugene Cernan, Ronald Evans and Harrison Schmidt, the latter a leading geologist, the first man of science to visit our natural satellite and who knows very well of the energy potential and mineral resources that exist there. 

What’s coming 

For the past 47 years, neither NASA nor any country has sent men to the Moon. Trying to emulate what John Kennedy did in the sixties, on January 14, 2004, President George Bush pointed out that the time had come for the United States of America to take a new step in space travel, making it clear that this time it would not be a race or a competition.

Bush promised to return to the Moon in 2020 and building facilities there that will serve, in the future, as stopovers for safe trips to Mars, the next frontier. 

NASA’s idea is to establish a lunar colony with the purpose of living and working on its surface, increasing the time spent on the natural satellite. 

Moon landing at the South Pole 

In March 2019, Mike Pence, current Vice President of the United States, attended the Fifth National Meeting of the National Space Council in Huntsville, Alabama, in which the Administrator of NASA, Jim Bridenstine, explained that his institution is determined to take astronauts to the Moon again in the next five years and to land on the Moon’ south pole in 2024. 

The official added that the first manned mission to the natural satellite will be sent in the year 2022 in a program dubbed Artemis (Apollo’s twin sister), using the new Orion spacecraft that is being tested. 

Space directive

In December 2017, President Donald Trump signed a new space directive for NASA in order to lead an innovative and sustainable exploration program with international commercial partners that will allow human expansion through the Solar System in order to bring to the Earth new knowledge and opportunities. 

NASA’s exploration campaign has five strategic goals: to transition from low-orbit aerospace operations to commercial operations of private companies that support NASA; lead the installation of capabilities to support operations on the lunar surface and facilitate missions beyond lunar orbit; encourage scientific discovery and survey lunar resources through a series of robotic missions; bring US astronauts back to the Moon for a sustained campaign of use and exploration and demonstrate human capabilities required for missions to Mars and other destinations.

A new frontier 

In late 2017, NASA preliminarily released a mission concept to launch an interstellar robotic probe bound for Proxima B, an exoplanet orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, by 2069 to mark the centennial of the trip to the Moon. 

It should be noted that the planet Proxima Centauri is located about 4.2 million light years from Earth, its mass is 1.27 times that of our planet and it is located approximately 7 and a half million kilometers from its parent star, in a strip of habitability or “goldilocks,” that is to say in a strip where water can be found in a liquid, solid or gaseous state, since its equilibrium temperature has been calculated at minus 39 degrees Celsius. It is the closest extrasolar planet to Earth.

What is stated here is part of a long-term vision that is complemented by steps that are being taken today through educational programs that aim to motivate new generations to explore and be delighted with the new horizons and challenges that space exploration presents. 

The goals are ambitious and aim to integrate the work of thousands of engineers and scientists specialized in exact and human sciences, in which talented young people eager to face challenges and develop new knowledge to understand nature and the universe will also have an opportunity, with a mission to perpetuate and disseminate the species in the Solar System and beyond.