Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Spaced Out

There seems to be considerable interest in the 40th anniversary of Man walking on the moon

I was a young boy in the late 1960’s and an avid Space Junkie.

On the day of and the day after the moon walk, I convinced my parents to purchase each of the daily newspapers then published in Melbourne and still have them to this day. The Sun, The Age, and The Herald. And I kept the entire newspaper too rather than just the sections on the moon walk and they are today among of my prized possessions. Worthless to anyone else; priceless to me.

As a student in Grade 5 of Canterbury State School in Melbourne’s Eastern Suburbs, the Space Missions of the year were followed with keen interest and passion. On the day of the moon walk, the class moved across the road to a fellow student's residence where we gathered around a black and white television and watched in amazement as Neil Armstrong descended the ladder of the Lunar Landing Module, took the final step and uttered one of the most well known phrases of the century.
Man walked on the moon. And I am sure I was one of many, many millions to gaze at the moon that evening wondering if it looked any different.

But the mission that most took my attention, and is remembered by me with even clearer recollection is the flight of Apollo 8.
The Apollo 8 flight took place between the 21st and 27th of December 1968 and was very, very special.

It was the first time a manned space craft had been powered by the Saturn 5 rockets that formed the cornerstone of the moon missions.

It was the first flight to have hot and cold water options for the astronauts. As a result, there was a far more expansive diet than ever before.

It represented the first time Man had entered the Moon’s orbit. It was also the first time Man had viewed the “dark side of the moon”.

And the photos of the moon rise were spectacular to say the least. And by all accounts, we were lucky to have them.

Apollo 8 only circumnavigated the moon 1o times and a key task of the time spent in lunar orbit was for the crew to take photographs of the surface of the moon. Photographic mapping you might say.

The objective was to try and locate suitable areas for the eventual landing on the surface of the moon.

They had been on the “dark side” and out of radio contact with Mission Control. To facilitate the photographic assignment, the craft was rotated in its orbit so that the windows were more directly facing the lunar surface. The rotating of the craft also meant the radio aerials were turned away from the Earth but as there was no contact possible on the dark side this obviously did not matter.

As they began to emerge from the dark side, the Commander commenced the process to rotate the craft back to its usual position so that radio contact could be resumed. It was when this began to happen that the Astronauts effectively looked over their shoulders and witnessed the amazing spectacle of the Earth rising above the horizon of the moon. With camera’s still in hand, they snapped the scene unfolding in front of them and in doing so, captured what perhaps rank among the most famous and most viewed photographs of all time. (other than photos including people)

I recall a discussion at school about these photos. The teacher was talking about the Christopher Columbus voyage to prove the world was round however, it is only as a result of photos such as those taken by Apollo 8 that we really do know the world is round. The thought that it has taken the Apollo 8 mission to prove the “round earth” theory certainly captivated my young adventurers imagination.

Looking back now, even though the Apollo Spacecraft possessed less computer power than a simple calculator, the technology must have been mind blowing.

We have certainly lived through an incredible revolution in electronic communications technology.

But in this era, over a relatively short lifetime, the revolution in human transportation (or human personal communications) was nothing short of remarkable.

My Grandfather was born in 1896. His life started in an era when the internal combustion engine was in its infancy and the four wheel motor car were being invented. By the end of his life, international jet aircraft travel was an everyday event and man had not only walked on the moon, but was basically "over it". It must almost have been beyond belief to his generation.

And, this evolution must surely rank with, if not surpass the change from transmitting morse code by wire to the world of mobile technology we enjoy today. In fact, if it was not for the space program, the communications revolution would not have occurred.

So, next week on the 21st July (Australian Time) spare a thought for the pioneers of the 1960's who conquered the moon. But also, spare a thought for the ground breaking Apollo 8 team that in many ways, made it all possible.

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