On July 20, 1969, a whole nation tuned in to see astronaut Neil Armstrong take one small step on the surface of the Moon, ushering in a new era of space exploration. But how did Armstrong and the Apollo 11 astronauts get to the Moon in the first place?
From dashing off a quick note to creating painstaking calligraphy, we often take writing for granted. But in space, where the stakes are high, how does one write? After all, the ink in pens isn’t held down by gravity, so how do you write upside down?
My threshold for thrill-seeking ends at the Cyclone on Coney Island. It’s why astronauts have always captivated me. They are people who have said YES to travelling around the Earth at a top speed of 28,000 kilometers (17,500 miles) per hour; YES to being strapped to a launch vehicle that can consume more than 1.59 million kilograms (3.5 million pounds) of fuel in just 8 ½ minutes; and YES to calling the vacuum of space home for increasingly longer periods of time. They have made a career out of taking calculated risks. And they have worked tirelessly and competed aggressively to do so.
Last week a United States’ “hit-to-kill vehicle” intercepted and destroyed a mock intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) for the first time during a test. Until fifteen years ago, however, anti-ballistic missiles (ABMs) like the one just tested were banned under the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty signed by the United States and Soviet Union in 1972.
When John Grant was only 16, the Viking landers were sent to Mars. Today, Grant helps lead the operation groups controlling two Mars rovers, Opportunity and Curiosity, as a geologist at the National Air and Space Museum’s Center for Earth and Planetary Studies. Recent data collected by Curiosity and published in Science describes an ancient lake environment located at Gale Crater—an environment Grant, a coauthor of the article, believes holds further clues to whether there was ever life on the Red Planet.
In late March, I traveled to Puerto Rico to conduct observations of Venus using the Arecibo Observatory telescope. It was the second time I traveled to the observatory to make radar measurements of the surface of Venus. Even though it was my second time there, the size and capability of the telescope still impressed me; the telescope is largest single-aperture telescope ever constructed.
When the Museum’s Apollo Lunar Module (LM-2) moved to a prominent place in our Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall last year, it was an opportunity for us to examine the artifact in fine detail. We spared no effort to preserve, refurbish, and document the iconic object before it went on display in our central gallery in 2016. With careful research and close examination of photography from the Apollo 11 mission, we have been able to refine the accuracy of the external appearance of our LM-2 to more and more closely represent the appearance of LM-5 (Eagle) on the Moon.
Earth Day will be celebrated on April 22. An annual event begun in 1970, it is, in the words of anthropologist Margaret Mead, “devoted to the preservation of the harmony in nature.” Before and since that first occasion, spaceflight and the environmental movement have been deeply entwined, shaping how we think about Earth as home as well as our responsibilities to sustain that home.
On April 7, 2017, New Horizons entered a 157-day-long hibernation. New Horizons is an interplanetary space probe and is NASA’s first mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt. After operating steadily for almost two and a half years, the spacecraft and its systems deserve this much-needed break.
Before coming to work at the National Air and Space Museum, I taught for 15 years at Liberty Public Schools near Kansas City, Missouri. When I was teaching, I would write to anyone I thought I could get a response from, including celebrities, asking them for advice for students. My favorite responses were always from astronauts.