50 years ago, humanity’s first steps on another world
Fifty years ago on Saturday, American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans in history to set foot on the Moon, an epoch-defining event watched on television by half a billion people.
Their lunar module, named “Eagle,” touched down at 2018 GMT (4:18pm ET) on July 20, 1969.
A little over six hours later, at 0256 GMT, Armstrong placed his left foot on the lunar surface, declaring: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
“Looking back, landing on the moon wasn’t just our job, it was a historic opportunity to prove to the world America’s can-do spirit,” Aldrin, 89, tweeted before joining Vice President Mike Pence on a flight to the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
“I’m proud to serve the country that gave me this historic opportunity. Today belongs to you. We must hold the memory of #Apollo11 close.”
NASA has been in overdrive for several weeks to mark the anniversary, with exhibits and events around the country.
The “Apollo 50: Go for the Moon” show, combining full-motion projection mapping artwork on the Washington Monument and archival footage to recreate the mission
Pence is due to deliver a speech from Cape Canaveral, from where Armstrong, Aldrin and Michael Collins, the third crew member, took off. All three men were born in 1930.
The anniversary has also revived a discussion about the future of space flight.
NASA has declared its intention to return to the Moon by 2024 under the Artemis program — the twin sister of Apollo in Greek mythology — and this time place the first woman on its surface.
It plans to establish a lunar orbiting platform, called a “Gateway,” studying how living organisms react to the radiation and microgravity of a deep space environment over a long period.
But experts doubt that the space agency can meet its current goals on time. None of the key elements — the rocket, crew capsule, lander, or orbital station, are near completion.
– Space alliance? –
In an interview with Fox News Friday night, Aldrin lamented the lack of progress in human space exploration since the Apollo program, which ended in 1972.
He also called for global cooperation to achieve humanity’s next steps on the Moon and Mars.
“It would not be at all helpful to be competing for the Moon or Mars, that’s very wasteful,” he said.
US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump host Apollo 11 crew members Michael Collins (L), Buzz Aldrin (R) and their families at the White House
“Above the atmosphere and into orbit all nations can and should cooperate together and learn how we can work and help each other and take care of what is found underneath us.”
President Donald Trump, meanwhile has repeatedly questioned in public the need to return to the Moon, which his space agency has determined is a necessary first step to test out key technologies, including life support systems, that will be required for Mars.
On Friday, Trump upbraided NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine during a televised event from the Oval Office, chastising him for sometimes voting against him when he was a congressman, and then pitting him against the two surviving Apollo 11 crew members, Collins and Aldrin.
Armstrong passed away in 2012.
– Future in doubt –
The White House issued a statement Saturday, announcing it was “committed to reestablishing our Nation’s dominance and leadership in space for centuries to come.
“Sustained exploration that extends from our Earth to the Moon and on to the Martian surface will usher in a new era of American ingenuity, drawing untold individuals into the fields of science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and defense.”
A visitor looks at a lunar landscape exhibit during the Apollo 11, 50th Live celebration at Space Center Houston in Houston, Texas
But Trump is not the first president to make promises: 30 years ago today, in 1989, the late president George HW Bush pledged to create a permanent base on the Moon and then send a crewed mission to Mars.
His son, former president George W Bush vowed the same in 2004 — but their ambitions came up short against budgetary realities.
The future of Artemis rests therefore on the willingness of Congress to increase substantially NASA’s current budget of $21 billion — and possibly on the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.