39 years ago today, Apollo 17
splashed down in the South Pacific, marking the end to manned exploration of the Moon
. What we learned from those 10 years of discovery was amazing.
It wasn't cheap or easy to send men to the Moon. In 1960 dollars, the financial cost was $25 billion dollars (estimated to be $170 billion in 2005 dollars).
The human cost is harder to quantify. While it's easy to note the three astronauts who died in the Apollo 1 fire
, others died during training
. Meanwhile, the long hours required for training left families bereft of a spouse and parent, a hole
that the wives and families had to fill on their own
Despite the long hours and the turblence of 1960s America
and the world
, humanity accomplished a feat that reaped four benefits.
1: The rapid developement of fuel cells and computers
The Apollo Guidance Computer
(AGC) was used for control, guidance and navigation of the Command and Lunar module. Developed at MIT laboratories (then headed by Charles Draper
), the computer required the large scale development of intergrated circuits
, a low cost amd low power chip. This propelled the development of hardware and software, as chronicled in Moon Machines: Apollo Guidance Computer
Yet as powerful
as the computer was, the amout of RAM it used is dwarfed by the size of a font
in modern day systems.
To run the AGC and everything else on the ships, a power source was needed. Batteries couldn't do the job, not with the size and weight needed for a 8-12 day voyage in space. Enter the fuel cell
, a device
that uses hydrogen and oxygen to provide a constant supply of electricity, along with a useful by-product, water. Developed early in the '60s, fuel cells saw development and use in the Gemini program
and further refinement in Apollo
These days, the technology is viewed as a possible alternative to gas cars
2: Insight into the orgin of the Earth and the universe
While Apollo was largely about beating the godless commies
to the moon, scientific exploration
was a major component of the program. Each mission carried numerous experiments, most of them bundled into the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package or ALSEP
. The package contained instruments that measured the internal structure of the moon
, revealing that moonquakes
occurred, information that indicates the moon did not form at the same time as the Earth
. Also measured was the "atmosphere"
and the solar wind
that mixes with it; the distance from the Earth to the Moon
, within centimeters; and the magnetic field
But what about the 800 plus pounds of rocks and dust
brought back from the Moon? Surprisingly, they're similar to Earth rocks, giving weight to the Giant Impact Theory
. But the most amazing fact is that with no true atmosphere, there's no erosion. The Moon rocks, laying on the surface for billions of years, contain information about the universe from early era of the universe
, which also reveals the conditions of Earth shortly after it was formed.
3: A stunning collection of photographs and video was taken
If you just want to start clicking and viewing, check out the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal
, which has an amazingly huge library of images and video for missions 11-17. Be warned that many of the videos are in the RealVideo format, so one would have to download the RealVideo player to view them. All the links below are to non RealVideo Clips from other sources.
Note that Apollo 11 made it into Big Picture
on the 40th anniversay of the landing. Oddly enough, there are very few photos of Armstrong on the moon.
Every classic and iconic picture from the mission is of Buzz Alrdin, taken by Armstrong. Rumors
persist that Aldrin was annoyed about not being designated the first man out
and delibrately snubbed Armstrong in revenge.
All the missions carried still and TV cameras
, even the unmanned Apollo 4 and 6, which produced the famous scenes of booster stages separating
. This enabled Apollo 7
to be the first US mission to broadcast video from space. The next mission, Apollo 8, continued doing live transmissions
, including the low resolution but moving Christmas message of 1968.
Later, Apollo 9 produced remarbly better color videos of the astronauts and Earth
, particularly the spacewalks
With the tenth mission, the increased quality and color
provided not only breathtaking video of moon
but pretty decent video of the astronauts inside the ships
. Yet for the history making moon landing, that quality was noticably absent for the historic first step
, probably due to the more rigorous demands of having the the camera outside.
That was supposed to be remedied on Apollo 12, which had a color camera for the moonwalking astronauts. Unfortunately, the camera didn't come with a lot of instruction, so one of the astronauts ended up pointing the camera at the sun, which destroyed the video tube. Other than the landing
, taken with a 16mm camera from the pilot's window, no video exists of the crew on the moon.
Apollo 13 transmitted a public broadcast
, as all missions did. But later the crew ran into a problem
that resulted in no images from the lunar surface.
For Apollo 14, good video footage of astronauts on the moon was finally seen
, a trend that conintued for the rest of the program. Apollo 15, 16 and 17 increased the quality even further with a camera on the Lunar Rover, allowing the public to come along
for the ride
and see men leave the moon
4: A different view of ourselves and our home
As Apollo 8 circled the moon late in 1968, astronaut William Anders snapped the famous color photo known as Earthrise
. Widely credited with igniting the environmental movement
, the picture offered a startling view to humanity, that Earth was fragile and alone in space. As Anders himself later noted
"...we came all the way to the moon to discover the Earth."
This wasn't the first photo of Earth from the vantage point of the moon. Lunar Orbiter 1 had done that two years earlier, in grainy black and white
. But the Apollo 8 crew had better
cameras and more importantly was a sign that humans had actually traveled so far from home.
24 men traveled to the moon
, thanks to the work of 400
. It wasn't easy or cheap, the cost was enormous, arguably spent better elsewhere
and perhaps, in the end, the Apollo program was an anomaly
But it was worth it.