By Shankar Chennattu, Summer Times Staff Writer
“Three, Two, One, Liftoff!” We are taking a blast to the past. 50 years ago, on July 16, 1969, the legendary spaceflight Apollo 11 was launched into space with humans on a risky mission to reach the moon and land on it. Three astronauts from the United States (Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins), who flew the Saturn V rocket ship, successfully landed on the moon and returned safely back to earth.
After landing the lunar module Eagle spacecraft on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon and became the first human to ever walk on an astronomical body outside of the earth. The pilot of the Eagle, Buzz Aldrin, became the second man to walk on the moon. The third astronaut on the mission, Michael Collins, kept an orbital vigil while the other two astronauts walked on the moon.
This was not only a groundbreaking moment in the history of astronomy; this also significantly changed our understanding of humans’ possibilities. We had never accomplished anything as phenomenal as landing on another astronomical body before then. During the mid 1900s, the idea of traveling all the way to the moon and roaming it was inconceivable to many people. Some feared that the astronauts would fall through the surface after attempting to land on the moon. Others doubted whether the astronauts would even be able to survive the trip to the moon and back. However, the real outcome put all of the theories to rest and opened the gates to a realm full of new ideas to explore.
Fifty years since the moon landing, this great round number enables us to reflect upon the progress we have made when regarding humanity’s advancements in science and technology; more specifically astronomy.
In the late 1960s, Americans lived in an era of many technological developments, albeit the more impactful inventions would surely come later. Today, we live during a monumental revolution in technology. In just the past 15 years, humans have created smartphones with touchscreens, social media websites, hybrid vehicles, virtual reality, etc. A lot of these inventions have added simplicity to our daily lives. You can find all the information that exists about anything in the world with the touch of your finger. It is remarkable that we have been able to come up with such creations, but what have we done in the subject matter of human travel? Amazingly, only 66 years elapsed between the invention of powered flight by the Wright Brothers and the moon landing. In 1927, Charles Lindbergh flew a plane solo over the Atlantic Ocean from New York to Paris. Forty-two years later, Neil Armstrong first walked on the moon.
But 50 years later, we have not made a human landing on any other astral body. What are we going to do next?
On Monday, July 15, 2019, India’s space program attempted to launch a spacecraft, Chandrayaan–2, to the moon. Everything had been going according to plan until less than an hour to go before the rocket ship was scheduled to launch. With just 56 minutes left until liftoff, a leak might have sprung in the rocket’s engine system, according to Pallava Bagla, a science journalist who was attending the launch. There had to be an unfortunate delay for the launch of Chandrayaan–2. This would have made India the fourth country to land on the moon. It is not as though India had been planning on sending anybody to the moon or anywhere else at the moment. They had recently put the spacecraft together for a test launch to be completed without any people inside of it.
Aside from that, Elon Musk’s aerospace company, SpaceX, sent a car into space but no person has actually traveled farther into space. We have rovers on Mars and are planning to send someone there within the next 10 years, but we still do not know exactly how guaranteed the chances are of it being a successful trip. There are probably many astronomical endeavors that the future holds for us, but it all remains a quandary.
In consideration of the 50th anniversary of the first-ever moonwalk, multiple students of Exeter Summer were interviewed on how they thought the moonwalk affected humanity’s perspective of the universe. The students were also asked about their thoughts on how much we have advanced in science since then.
All of the students interviewed seemed to be optimistic about a bright future in astronomy and science in general. “I think that the next big space venture would be the Mars mission,” said Sam Patterson. “With every year that passes, it’s becoming more of a reality.”
Nick Rujipornpong, another summer student said, “The first moonwalk was really significant because it made people think that we could go to other places in space. I think the next big thing will be humans going to Mars or another planet in the solar system.”
Students of Exeter Summer seem to have high hopes for the future, and maybe you should too.