Walking On The Moon
By, Sergio Burns
10…9…8…7…6 The Moon has always tantalised.
I mean, how many of us have stood and looked up at the night sky trying to work out what phase she was in? The romantically titled: New Moon or the Waxing Crescent (I love that), the First Quarter, Waxing Gibbous, Full Moon, Waning Gibbous, Third Quarter or even the Waning Crescent. Which one is it?
Earth’s satellite has, of course, always fascinated people from arts and culture, especially musicians and writers.
In 1979,The Police paid homage to her with their hit record Walking On The Moon, while R.E.M did likewise with Man On The Moon in 1992. For the record, Neil Armstrong also took some of his favourite music on board Apollo 11- a tape of Antonín Dvořák’s New World Symphony.
In literature, H.G. Wells wrote The First Men In The Moon in 1901, nearly 70 years before lunar module Eagle landed on its surface. And, if anyone has ever read Italo Calvino’s Cosmicomics (1965), especially the opening chapter, The Distance From The Moon, they will find the author has centred his story around the amazing fact – to me anyway – that the Moon was once much closer to the Earth than it is today (something to do with tidal acceleration I think).
In the modern era, at its closest point, the Moon is 225,623 miles away (112,386 nautical miles according to a trailer for a BBC documentary on the first manned Moon landings).
But, it was on July 20, 1969 – 50 years ago this year – humankind first set down on the surface of what was once known as ‘Mona’ in Old English.
The journey to the first ever manned Moon landing of 1969, really starts with an astro battle between the two superpowers of the time: the Soviet Union (USSR), and the USA.
In the early stages of this struggle, fought out in space, the USSR forged ahead launching the unmanned Sputnik 1 on October 4, 1957 – the first artificial satellite to orbit Earth.
What was then known as the ‘Space Race’ consumed both the USA and USSR, as they competed for the lead and poured billions of dollars/roubles into the effort.
In the early days of space travel orbiting the Earth as opposed to interplanetary journeys was what drove both nations, though, eventually, putting people on the Moon soon became the late 60’s Holy Grail of space flight.
On April 12, 1961 the Russians were also the first of the two competitors to send a human being into space when cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin did one orbit of the Earth in a craft they called Vostok 1. In space for 108 minutes, Gagarin, born on March 9, 1934, was a former apprentice foundry-man at the Lyubertsy steel plant near Moscow. He died in 1968 when a MIG-15 he was flying in crashed at Kirzhach.
Ironic, then, that Gagarin, the Russian who led the way in manned space flight would be dead before a human being actually stepped onto the Moon.
Less than a month after Gagarin became the first man in space, US astronaut Alan Shepard was launched into space. He was the second human being in space, but his Mercury-Redstone 3 mission did not complete an orbit of the planet. So, while he was the first American in space, it was John Glenn who took the honour of being the first US astronaut to orbit the Earth – three times on February 20, 1962.
In the end, it was the USA who won the space race when they sent Apollo 11, with their crew Neil Armstrong, Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin and Michael Collins, to the Moon on July 16, 1969. Four days later on July 20,1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin would descend down onto the, wonderfully titled, Sea of Tranquility (no water involved) in lunar module Eagle, and six hours later – into July 21 – they alighted from the vehicle and walked on the surface of the Moon.
Armstrong was first to set foot on the Moon, followed 19 minutes later by Aldrin. The two men spent just over two hours outside the module before returning to Eagle. In total they spent over 21 hours on the surface of the Moon before rejoining Columbia in lunar orbit.
Across the world over 600 million people watched Armstrong and Aldrin lay down….