Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Landing on moon 40 years later

What became of the astronauts on that fateful mission? Buzz Aldrin became a unsuccessful car salesman and now has a new book out about his years struggling with alcoholism, depression and infidelity. Armstrong largely shied away from the media spotlight after returning to earth and worked at an aviation software company for over a decade. Michael Collins, who stayed on Apollo 11 and orbited while Armstrong and Aldrin walked on the moon, became the forgotten man on the mission, but he was the director of the National Air and Space Museum after he returned.

Forty years after U.S. astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the moon, many conspiracy theorists still insist the Apollo 11 moon landing was an elaborate hoax. Examine the photographic evidence, and find out why experts say some of the most common claims simply don't hold water.

You can tell Apollo 11 was faked because ... the American flag appears to be flapping as if "in a breeze" in videos and photographs supposedly taken from the airless lunar surface.

The fact of the matter is ... "the video you see where the flag's moving is because the astronaut just placed it there, and the inertia from when they let go kept it moving," said spaceflight historian Roger Launius, of the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C.

The astronauts also accidentally bent the horizontal rods holding the flag in place several times, creating the appearance of a rippling flag in photographs (Apollo 11 moon-landing pictures). .


The irony of today’s celebrations marking the 40th anniversary of man’s landing on the moon is that 40 years after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set foot on the moon — arguably the greatest technological feat of the 20th century — at present and in the foreseeable future, nobody is really going anywhere.

Going to the moon and bringing astronauts safely back to Earth was surely one of the most profound achievements in human history. The July 20, 1969, lunar landing captivated millions of people around the world and inspired the belief that anything was possible.

But the last of six moon landings was in 1972. Since then, no one has gone much farther than the Earth’s orbit. After they went to the moon, there was something anticlimactic about it. It seems nothing less than a meeting with alien life forms can restimulate the passion.

Times have changed drastically. The glory days of Apollo will never be recaptured. Gone is the vast budget for building spaceships. Gone is the Cold War with the Soviet Union, which unified the US under President John F. Kennedy, who issued the challenge to land on the moon by the end of the 1960s, and lent urgency to the effort to put an American on the moon before anybody else.

That sense of urgency and purpose in spaceflight has lessened drastically. The US economic depression means that NASA is unlikely to get enough money to do anything truly ambitious. Already President Barack Obama’s proposed budget for 2010 shows that the administration plans to slash funding later this decade for the rocket and spacecraft needed to take astronauts back to the moon, much less venture to the next goal: Mars. NASA now employs half as many people as it did at its peak, when the figure stood at 400,000 civil servants and contractors, and its budget is less than one percent of the federal budget when it was once 4 1/2 percent.

In March, Obama said NASA was beset by “a sense of drift” and few would disagree. Today, the reasons for Americans to pay attention to the ground are far more numerous and serious than what’s in the sky. Americans aren’t worried about where they are going but where they are right now.

Today space occupies a very different place. The generations born since the moon landings have other interests: A YouTube clip of the first moonwalk has two million views; Michael Jackson moonwalking has 20 million.

While Americans may still support human spaceflight, they don't make it a high priority because spaceflight is primarily symbolic. Indeed, when a space shuttle is launched, like the current Endeavour as it installs new components of the international space station, many Americans don’t really pay attention unless something goes wrong.

To honor the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, NASA has just released brand new restored videos of those historic first steps on the moon. The pictures are much clearer than the grainier first efforts, but what is more interesting is that they also show the ingenuity of human achievement, revealing a time when man achieved what past generations thought was impossible. Should dreams of the seemingly impossible and unattainable not continue?

No comments: