Apollo artifacts have begun to receive increased scrutiny in light of recent discussions about returning humans to the Moon and the upcoming 50th anniversary of the historic Apollo missions. What did astronauts of the 1960s and 1970s bring back from the Moon? What was left behind? And how can we verify the authenticity of any of those objects if they have been or will be recovered?
Planetary science is one of those fields of research where you can always count on being surprised. The remarkable terrain of Pluto and Charon in images being sent back by the New Horizons spacecraft certainly qualifies. One of my all-time big surprises is from a recent discovery on an object much closer to home—the Moon.
As we await the exciting results of New Horizons’ flyby of Pluto on July 14, it is all too easy to think that this mission was inevitable: the capstone to NASA’s spectacular exploration of all the planets (and ex-planets) of the solar system since the 1960s. Yet, it proved extraordinarily difficult to sustain a Pluto project.
The first spacewalk by an American, which took place 50 years ago today, marked a new chapter in human exploration of space. Images of Edward White II floating in space with the backdrop of a beautiful blue and white Earth spread a sense of wonder around the world – humans could actually go to this place and it was amazing. While the spacewalk (or EVA, which stands for extra-vehicular activity) lasted less than 20 minutes, its significance for the future of human spaceflight in the American context cannot be underestimated.
Able and a squirrel monkey named Baker were the first American animals to enter space and return safely. On May 28, 1959 at Cape Canaveral, Able was placed in the nose cone of Jupiter AM-18 secured by a contour cradle made of fiberglass with sponge rubber lining specifically built for her body. Included in the cradle were multiple electrodes used to collect information on Able’s reaction to noise, acceleration, deceleration, vibration, rotation, and weightlessness. The cradle was then placed in a capsule with a life support system that included oxygen, moisture and CO2 absorbers, and electrical heating and cooling systems to keep the monkey alive. Baker was placed her in own separate capsule in the nose cone.
In 1898, Walter Wellman led an attempt to reach the North Pole using ship and sledge via Franz Josef Land, a group of uninhabited Russian islands in the Arctic Ocean. A journalist who had already made an unsuccessful polar attempt in 1894, Wellman also hoped to discover what had become of Swedish explorer Salomon A. Andrée, who had attempted to reach the Pole via balloon in 1897. Many notable names provided funding for the expedition, including President William McKinley, Vice President Garret Hobart, J.P. Morgan, and William K. Vanderbilt. The expedition arrived at Franz Josef Land in July 1898 and built their headquarters, “Harmsworth House.” Wellman sent Evelyn B. Baldwin, a meteorologist with the United States Weather Bureau and a veteran of one of Robert Peary’s Greenland expeditions, ahead north to establish an outpost to be used in the spring for their push to the Pole.