The immortal first words on the moon, uttered so shakily by a man who has done his best to avoid the spotlight ever since, are even more impressive in hindsight. The Eagle lander nearly plunked Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong in a boulder field, and Armstrong had to take over from autopilot to set the spacecraft down. This is according to very rare new commentary from Armstrong himself.
Last Friday, we bade adieu to NASA's 30-year Space Shuttle program as Atlantis lifted off for the very last time. Practical or not, the loss of our capacity for manned spaceflight is a little depressing for those of us who uphold interstellar travel as the paragon of human progress. While we can respect NASA's decision to prioritize other projects, we can hardly fathom how something as futuristic as human space travel ended up becoming a part of our country's past.
Ironically enough, the past can look a whole lot like a distant tomorrow when you study it through our 138-year archives. So until NASA can afford to send humans back into space, let's reminisce on the agency's golden age by flicking through our most dazzling space features.
China jumped into the space race a few decades too late for the original moon race, but the State Administration of Science, Technology, and Industry for National Defense (SASTIND) is feverishly working to close the space technology gap with Russia and the United States. As part of that effort, China’s Chang’e-2 moon orbiter left its moon orbit today and set a heading for interplanetary space, with a destination more than 930,000 miles from Earth.
Wasting no time after the publication of the Augustine Report, both NASA and a competitor for the Lunar X-Prize used this week to test lunar exploration technology. For NASA, this meant a Thursday test of the Ares rocket that forms the bedrock of their Shuttle replacement efforts. For Armadillo Airspace, a test of their X-Prize-contending lunar lander prototype.
Possibly the single most influential event in the public's interest in science and technology (not to mention one of humankind's greatest adventures), the Apollo 11 mission touched the collective dreams of millions, while pushing science and technology swiftly forward at an unprecedented pace.
But in the decades since man first walked on the moon, science has advanced so rapidly that technology which even a few years ago might have been considered magic has become commonplace. Even so, it would be naïve to assume that Apollo 11 ever represented science and technology's pinnacle, and that nothing forthcoming will similarly explode the world's collective dreams and perceptions of what it means to be human.
So what's next? What will be the next worldwide event or discovery that fundamentally changes the way we look at ourselves and the universe we live in?
With the monotone bleeps of Sputnik still ringing in a rattled nation's ears, President Eisenhower committed America to a program of manned space flight, a program culminating in the Apollo 11 mission and its legendary moon landing.
Whether you believe the astronauts went in peace for all mankind, or as part of a nationalistic competition driven by Cold War paranoia, there's no escaping the profound impact the moon landing had on the human psyche. The moon landing showed the whole world how technology can shift the bounds of the possible, and Popular Science was there the whole way.
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center has released a tantilizing preview of their newly-restored video footage of the Apollo 11 moon landing. NASA's working with restorations specialists Lowry Digital to greatly enhance the quality of the best available broadcast source, bringing it up to never-before-seen quality.
But why must they work from a recording of the broadcast? It's heartbreaking: NASA accidentally erased the original tapes.