When the Apollo 11 spacecraft lifted off on July 16, 1969, for the Moon, it signaled a climactic instance in human history. Reaching the Moon on July 20, its Lunar Module—with astronauts Neil A. Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin aboard—landed on the lunar surface while Michael Collins orbited overhead in the Apollo 11 command module. Armstrong soon set foot on the surface, telling millions on Earth that it was “one small step for [a] man—one giant leap for mankind.” Aldrin soon followed him out and the two planted an American flag but omitted claiming the land for the U.S. as had been routinely done during European exploration of the Americas, collected soil and rock samples, and set up scientific experiments. The next day they returned to the Apollo capsule overhead and returned to Earth, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean on July 24.
Regular summer visitors to the National Air and Space Museum are familiar with the Museum’s popular event, Mars Day. This year, Mars is taking a backseat to allow us to honor the 40th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing with Countdown to the Moon Day.
What will the astronauts who return to the Moon with NASA’s Constellation program drive? I had a chance to find out last October as a member of NASA's Desert Research and Technology Studies (Desert RATS) during the field test of the Lunar Electric Rover (LER) at Black Point lava flow in Arizona.
Of course the designers also used digital computers, but in the 1960s computers were giant machines that you programmed with punched cards, and they were strictly reserved for only the most complex mathematical calculations. As the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission approaches, we are constantly reminded of how incredible that voyage was.