On July 24, 1954, the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) at Stump Neck, Maryland (now the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Indian Head, Maryland) sent and received the first human voice transmission to be bounced back to Earth from the Moon. Moon bounce, also known as Earth-Moon-Earth (EME) communication, is a technique that sends radio wave transmissions from Earth to the Moon.
“We know it will be a good ride,” Astronaut Neil Armstrong said. He was responding to well wishes from the NASA launch operations manager just 15 seconds before automatic sequence. And he was right. It was a good ride.
One of our most enduring and popular exhibits has been a piece of the Moon that you can touch. The rock, on loan from NASA, is one of only a few touchable lunar sample displays in the world. In fact, it was the very first touchable Moon rock exhibit when it opened to the public in 1976.
Half a century ago, in February and June 1966, robotic spacecraft first landed on the Moon. I vividly remember those events from my days as a 14-year-old space buff. On February 3, the Soviet Union’s Luna 9 thumped down on the vast lava plain known as Oceanus Procellarum (Ocean of Storms), after a number of failed attempts. A Soviet stamp shows its landing configuration, which used air bags to cushion its fall. On the right is the first picture transmitted, from the turret camera in the cylinder on top.
I’ve done a lot of “cool” things as an educator at this Museum: performed a solar system dance with Miss America, chatted with astronauts, and given people their first awe-inspiring views through a telescope. But I have to say, my most recent experience was truly out of this world. On Monday, October 19, 2015, I participated in the second Astronomy Night at the White House. This event is designed to get youth excited about astronomy, space exploration, science, and engineering.
You may have heard about the “supermoon eclipse” that will happen this Sunday, September 27. Sounds pretty exciting! But what does it mean? Let’s start with the “supermoon” part. The Moon’s orbit around the Earth is not a perfect circle; it’s an ellipse, which means that the distance between the Moon and the Earth changes over the course of a month. When the Moon is in the part of its orbit that brings it closest to Earth, the perigee, it appears larger in our sky.
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.
When most people think of emergency fixes in space, the first incident that comes to mind is the famous Apollo 13 mission. The astronauts fashioned duct tape and surplus materials into air filtration canisters in the lunar module to keep all three astronauts alive for the entire trip home.
Much of the Moon is blanketed by a thick layer of dust, built up from the rocky surface over billions of years by the impacts of small meteorites. Hidden beneath the dust is evidence of ancient geologic activity – great volcanic eruptions, tectonic shifts in the crust, and vast deposits of once-molten material hurled outward during the formation of the giant impact basins.