Apollo 11 Launch Anniversary

Saturn V EnginesBeing an aerospace engineer and all-around astronut, I’ve been getting very excited about the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission. I hear about all kinds of things through Joseph since he is working at Johnson Space Center this summer, but following NASA, Buzz Aldrin and various other astronauts on Twitter has also revealed some nice ways to celebrate.

First, get in the appropriate mood by looking at some stunning hi-res photos from all stages of the mission. The Big Picture has everything from the iconic portrait of Buzz Aldrin on the moon to less-known moments like the astronauts eating a breakfast of steak and eggs before launch. (Either these are brave men, or their stomachs have been lined with steel.) If you’re like me, the pictures will probably bring tears to your eyes and goosebumps to your arms.

If, as I am, you are too young to have experienced the wonder of this historic mission as it happened, there are a couple of ways to simulate the experience. The J.F.K. Presidential library has a dedicated We Choose the Moon website that is playing through the entire mission in real time (and will have the full mission available thereafter). They’re broadcasting mission audio alongside a Flash mission tracker that shows each stage in computer simulation as it happened. As each stage of the mission becomes active, new galleries of images and video are available as well.

Similarly, NASA is broadcasting the mission audio as part of its anniversary celebration. I’ve actually been following both as the background to my work today and it’s been pretty interesting so far. The two audio lines seem to be out-of-sync by about 10 minutes. I’ve tried reloading to sync them (Flash seems to be slowing down a lot under Ubuntu and Firefox), but no luck. Guess it just means that I get to hear all the great bits twice!

Of course, we shouldn’t forget that there is a current space shuttle mission, STS-127, aloft right now. It’s pretty quiet in my department today, in fact, because a lot of people are in FL for the Endeavor launch since it’s carrying our AggieSAT into orbit.

The space shuttle program is, sadly, on its way out, which makes this, more than ever, a time to look forward to what we want to do in space in the years to come. To that end, I’ll be eagerly awaiting word from President Obama’s commission to see what it will mean for NASA and the Constellation program. Personally, I would like to see a bolder course and one with a more ambitious timeline for manned exploration than what I’ve heard thus far. Of course, such a program requires funds to go with it, and, unfortunately, that’s about the last thing the public wants to think about right now. But space exploration is an investment in our future, short-term and long-term. I cannot say enough about how inspirational NASA’s manned space flight programs have been to me, personally, and I know many others who would not have pursued education and careers in science, math, and engineering were it not for those programs.

Fortunately, I’m not the only one calling for a more ambitious path: Buzz Aldrin has a piece in the Washington Post today:

Much has been said recently about the Vision for Space Exploration and the future of the international space station. As we all reflect upon our historic lunar journey and the future of the space program, I challenge America’s leaders to think boldly and look beyond the moon. Yes, my vision of “Mars for America” requires bold thinking. But as my friend and Gemini crewmate Jim Lovell has noted, our Apollo days were a time when we did bold things in space to achieve leadership. It is time we were bold again in space. #

Perhaps by the time the 60th Apollo 11 anniversary rolls around, we’ll have an even more impressive achievement on our records.

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