Space stations past and present

The International Space Station (ISS) is now 20 years old. In this post I’ll talk about the history of the ISS and other space stations, and I’ll also touch on some of the politics involved.

Image from NASA

 

Early space stations

 

Although America was the first country to put a man on the Moon, the Soviet Union led the way in long duration spaceflights and was the first country to launch a space station, where humans could  live and work for longer periods of time. Before the advent of space stations, astronauts were confined to cramped space capsules.  Continue reading “Space stations past and present”

Chinese manned space programme

On 18 November two Chinese astronauts, Jing Haipeng and Chen Dong, landed back on Earth after spending 33 days in space, an event which was hardly reported in the western media. During their mission they spent 30 days aboard the Tiangong-2 space station.

shenzou11

Image from the Chinese National Space Administration

Tiangong-2, shown in the mission patch above, is the second space station launched by China and, compared to the International Space Station (ISS), it is relatively small. It measures only 10 metres in length by 4 metres in diameter and is designed to accommodate a crew of two astronauts, whereas the ISS normally has a crew of six.

However, as I’ll discuss later, this mission is only one step in the Chinese space programme. China plans to launch a much larger space station by 2020 and put astronauts on the Moon during the 2030s.

Overview of previous Chinese missions

On 15 October 2003, Yang Liwei stepped into the Shenzhou 5 spacecraft and shortly after take off went into orbit to become the first Chinese astronaut. China then became only the third nation in the world, after Russia and the United States, to have their own space programme capable of putting a human into orbit without the assistance of any other nation.

yang liwei

Yang Liwei – the first Chinese astronaut – image from Wikimedia Commons

Since that first historic flight China has launched a further five manned space missions. The last three missions, Shenzhou 9, 10 and 11 have all docked with Chinese space stations, of which there have been two: Tiangong-1 and Tiangong-2.  Tiangong is the Chinese for ‘heavenly palace’, which I think is a very appropriate name for a space station!

Forthcoming missions

In April 2017 Tiangong-2 will be visited by an unmanned supply spacecraft and later on in the year Shenzhou 12 will carry two astronauts to the resupplied space station (GB Times 2016).

In 2020 China plans to build a larger 60 tonne space station. This will be too large to be launched on a single rocket, so the various components or modules will be launched on different rockets and the space station will be assembled in orbit. I can only imagine what a feat this will be ;-). Once assembled, this will enable Chinese astronauts to have a greater manned presence in space. It could eventually lead to a more or less permanently manned Chinese space station, in the same way that the International Space Station (shown below) is permanently manned with crews rotating every few months.

International_Space_Station

Image from NASA

One reason the Chinese are going it alone with their own space station is that they are frozen out of any participation in the ISS by the United States, which fears the military nature of the Chinese space programme. In 2011 Congress passed a law prohibiting any official American contact with the Chinese space program due to concerns about national security. Interestingly, according to the Guardian (2016), China is planning to involve other counties in its space programme.

Chinese missions to the Moon

China has already sent three space probes to the Moon. The first two, Chang’e 1 and Chang’e 2, both orbited the Moon. The spacecraft were named after Chang’e who was an ancient Chinese goddess who lived on the Moon with her pet jade rabbit to keep her company.

In December 2013 the third probe, Change’e 3, performed a gentle controlled ‘soft’ landing onto the Moon’s surface, the first spacecraft to do so for nearly forty years. It had a large array of scientific instruments to study the Moon’s surface and a six wheeled rover named Yutu (Chinese for jade rabbit), which was intended to move around and explore the Moon’s surface. The mission was a success although Yutu suffered failure after about a month on the Moon due to the intense cold on the surface of the Moon at night – it gets as cold as -130 degrees Celsius which restricted its ability to move around.

Chang'e-3_lunar_landing_site

The landing site of the Chang’e 3 spacecraft and Yutu Rover – Image from NASA

The next mission to land, Chang’e 4, will land on the far side of the Moon at the end of 2018. This will be first time this has ever been attempted. All previous landings, manned and unmanned, have been on the near side. As the far side of the Moon cannot be seen directly from the Earth, then mission control will not be able to communicate directly with the lander. To get round this problem, in June 2018 China will launch a communications satellite to a point in space called the Earth-Moon L2 point. From this point it will be able to communicate with both the Earth and the Lander. This is shown in the diagram below

change4

There is another mission planned, Chang’ e 5, although the launched date has not yet been confirmed.  This will land on the Moon, collect samples of moon rock, launch off the Moon’s surface  and return these samples back to the  Earth for analysis by scientists in China

Manned Chinese Mission to the Moon

In April 2016 Lieutenant General Zhang Yulin, deputy commander of the China Manned Space Program said that China must

raise its abilities and use the next 15 to 20 years to realize manned lunar exploration goals, and take a firm step for the Chinese people in breaking ground in the utilization of space” (Reuters 2016).

The investment required will be huge. It is technically far more complicated to land astronauts on the Moon, then blast off from the Moon’s surface and return them safely to Earth, than to land an unmanned space probe on the Moon’s surface.

Indeed, between 1961 and the end of 1972 the United States spent the equivalent of around $175 billion (in 2016 dollars) to achieve the manned moon landings. This large expenditure brought many advances. A large number of jobs in high technology industries were created. Many of the advances in electronics in the 1960s can be traced back to the space programme and there were some interesting lesser known spin-offs ranging from improvements in kidney dialysis to better home insulation. More details can be found on the following website http://spinoff.nasa.gov/apollo.htm

In 1969, landing a man on the Moon gave the Americans a huge sense of national prestige.  It also confirmed their standing as the most powerful country in the world, as at the time no other country could have done this. By 2025 China will have overtaken America as the world’s largest economy. By landing a human on the Moon China will confirm its new standing in the world.

 

 

References

GB Times (2016) China’s Tiangong-2 space lab to launch in September, Available at:http://gbtimes.com/china/chinas-tiangong-2-space-lab-launch-september-dock-shenzhou-11-october (Accessed: 19 November 2016).

Reuters (2016) China aims for manned moon landing by 2036, Available at:http://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-space-moon-idUSKCN0XQ0JT (Accessed: 26 November 2016).

The Guardian (2016) China sends two astronauts to live onboard its Tiangong 2 space station, Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/17/china-sends-first-two-astronauts-to-live-onboard-its-tiangong-2-space-station (Accessed: 19 November 2016).

 

 

20 July 1969 The First Men on the Moon

It has been a very exciting week for space exploration with the pictures sent from New Horizons as it flew past Pluto on Tuesday. Monday next week  (20-th July) marks the 46-th anniversary of the first landing on men on the Moon, which was one of the iconic events of the last century. To celebrate this anniversary I have decided to re-blog my post from July last year marking this momentous occasion.

Apollo_program_insignia

The Mission Insignia of Apollo 11- Image from NASA

 

Background

On 21 May 1961 President John F Kennedy made the following address to the United States Congress:

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important in the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”

Kennedy_May61

President J F Kennedy giving his address on May 25 1961- Image from NASA

At the time, which was in the middle of the cold war between the West and the Soviet bloc, the Soviet Union had a clear lead in space exploration and had achieved three notable firsts:

  • The first satellite in orbit, Sputnik 1, in October 1957
  • The first spacecraft to photograph the far side of the Moon, Lunik 3, in October 1959
  • The first man in space, Yuri Gagarin, in April 1961.

By achieving this goal of landing a man on the moon, which was incredibly ambitious given that in May 1961 America had not yet place a man in orbit, the United States would show to the whole world that it had gained supremacy over the Soviet Union in space exploration.

Why the Moon?

The Moon is our nearest neighbour in space, and Kennedy was advised that, given sufficient investment by the richest country in the world, a manned landing could be be achieved before 1970. There was also a good chance that, given the amount of resources needed to develop and test the new technologies needed, the Soviets would not be able to do it by this date.  The Soviet Union simply could not afford to spend so much money in such a short time.

The American Manned Space Program (1961 to 1969)

To achieve Kennedy’s goal, the American government funded the largest commitment every undertaken by a nation in peacetime. At its peak the programme employed nearly half a million people and its total cost (in 2016 dollars) was around $175 billion.

Apollo 11 Mission July 1969

All this effort came to successful fruition on July 20 1969, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first men to land on the moon. When Armstrong stepped out of the spacecraft he said the immortal words:

That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.

The event was shown on live TV to a worldwide audience of over 1 billion, almost a third of the population of the Earth at that time.  As a young child I was one of those billion people but not Mrs Geek, as it was past her bedtime (she was five years old).

 

Aldrin_Apollo_11

Apollo 11 Astronaut Buzz Aldrin on the Moon -Image from NASA

The astronauts planted the United States flag on the lunar surface in view of the TV camera. Some time later, President Richard Nixon spoke to them through a telephone-radio transmission which Nixon called “the most historic phone call ever made from the White House.”

In total the astronauts spent 2.5 hours on the lunar surface, during which time they gathered around 25 kg of moon rock. These samples would be studied by scientists over the forthcoming years and would provide new insights into the origin of the Moon.

They left behind on the Moon’s surface scientific instruments that included an array of mirrors  used to calculate the distance between the Moon and the Earth, and a seismometer used to measure moon quakes.

On their return to Earth, the astronauts were treated as heroes – but they also had to spend three weeks in quarantine, just in case they had picked up any strange and potentially dangerous diseases on in the Moon.

Apollo 11 in quarantine

The Apollo 11 astronauts in quarantine after their return to Earth – Image from NASA

After they had emerged from quarantine they went on a world tour in September and October 1969, and met many prominent leaders, such as Queen Elizabeth II.

Subsequent  Missions

After Apollo 11 there were five further successful missions to the Moon (Apollos 12,14, 15, 16 and 17) plus one unsuccessful mission Apollo 13, which you may well know about from the Hollywood movie of the same name. The diagram below shows all the Apollo landing sites.

Apollo Landing Sites

 

The Apollo landing sites (Image from Soerfm)

All the landings were on the near side, as it would have been far too risky to land on the far side of the Moon, where they would have been out of direct contact from the Earth.

The later missions involved the astronauts having progressively longer and  longer stays on the Moon.  For the final mission, Apollo 17, the astronauts stayed on the surface for three days and performed three separate moonwalks.

During the final three missions the astronauts used an electric-powered moon buggy to allow them to travel longer distances on the Moon – about twenty miles away from the lunar module – and thus gather rock samples from more varied sites.

Lunar Rover

The Lunar Rover or “Moon Buggy” – Image from NASA

The End of the Apollo Program

After the successful landing of Apollo 11, watched by such a huge proportion of Earth’s inhabitants, public interest in the Moon program started to wane and the US government  quickly came under pressure to reduce the spending on manned space exploration. The last three Apollo missions which should have taken place in 1973 and 1974 were cancelled.

Another victim of the spending cuts was the Moon base, which NASA had been hoping to build on the Moon in around 1980. This Moon base would gradually be extended, over the following years and decades, until it became a fully fledged lunar colony. The intention was that one day people would actually live on the Moon, but these plans were brought to a halt in the early 1970s, purely because of the cost.  Not only that, but for the last 43 years no astronaut has ventured more than a few hundred miles above the surface of the Earth.

 

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Artist’s impression of a moon base -Image from NASA

When will humans next go to the moon ?

I think it is unlikely that the next astronauts to set foot on the Moon will be from America. NASA has no plans to go to the Moon within the next decade, because there is little political will or drive to do it.  It is unlikely that Congress would provide the funding, especially as NASA is already committed to supporting the International Space Station until at least 2020, which will reduce the money available for other manned space missions.

I think the next humans to set foot on the Moon will be from China, in around the year 2025. China has its own ambitious manned space programme, and has recently landed an unmanned probe on the Moon, which is exploring the Moon as I am writing this post.

In fact, there is so much to say about Chinese plans to explore space that I dealt with this in a separate post “Chinese Manned Spaceflight”.

 

 

45th Anniversary of first Men on the Moon

Welcome

On Sunday (20th July) it is the 45th anniversary of the first manned Moon landing. To commemorate this. I thought that I’d re-post my article from 4th June which discussed the first Moon landings. I hope you enjoy reading or re-reading it.

My next article, which I will post next week, will be on the subject of space tourism.

Background

On 21 May 1961 President John F Kennedy made the following address to the United States Congress:

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important in the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”

Kennedy_May61

President J F Kennedy giving his address on May 25 1961- Image from NASA

At the time, which was in the middle of the cold war between the West and the Soviet bloc, the Soviet Union had a clear lead in space exploration and had achieved three notable firsts:

  • The first satellite in orbit, Sputnik 1, in October 1957
  • The first spacecraft to photograph the far side of the Moon, Lunik 3, in October 1959
  • The first man in space, Yuri Gagarin, in April 1961.

By achieving this goal of landing a man on the moon, which was incredibly ambitious given that in May 1961 America has not yet place a man in orbit, the United States would show to the whole world that it had gained supremacy over the Soviet Union in space exploration.

Why the Moon?

The Moon is our nearest neighbour in space, and Kennedy was advised that, given sufficient investment by the richest country in the world, a manned landing could be be achieved before 1970. There was also a good chance that, given the amount of resources needed to develop and test the new technologies needed, the Soviets would not be able to do it by this date.  The Soviet Union simply could not afford to spend so much money in such a short time.

The American Manned Space Program (1961 to 1969)

To achieve Kennedy’s goal, the American government funded the largest commitment every undertaken by a nation in peacetime. At its peak the programme employed nearly half a million people and its total cost (in 2014 dollars) was around $130 billion.

Apollo 11 Mission July 1969

All this effort came to successful fruition on July 20 1969, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first men to land on the moon. When Armstrong stepped out of the spacecraft he said the immortal words:

That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.

The event was shown on live TV to a worldwide audience of over 1 billion, almost a third of the population of the Earth at that time.  As a young child I was one of those billion people but not Mrs Geek, as it was past her bedtime (she was five years old).

 

Aldrin_Apollo_11

Apollo 11 Astronaut Buzz Aldrin on the Moon -Image from NASA

The astronauts planted the United States flag on the lunar surface in view of the TV camera. Some time later, President Richard Nixon spoke to them through a telephone-radio transmission which Nixon called “the most historic phone call ever made from the White House.”

In total the astronauts spent 2.5 hours on the lunar surface, during which time they gathered around 25 kg of moon rock. These samples would be studied by scientists over the forthcoming years and would provide new insights into the origin of the Moon.

They left behind on the Moon’s surface scientific instruments that included an array of mirrors  used to calculate the distance between the Moon and the Earth, and a seismometer used to measure moon quakes.

On their return to Earth, the astronauts were treated as heroes – but they also had to spend three weeks in quarantine, just in case they had picked up any strange and potentially dangerous diseases on in the Moon.  After that they went on a world tour in September and October, and met many prominent leaders, such as Queen Elizabeth II.

Subsequent  Missions

After Apollo 11 there were five further successful missions to the Moon (Apollos 12,14, 15, 16 and 17) plus one unsuccessful mission Apollo 13, which you may well know about from the Hollywood movie of the same name. The diagram below shows all the Apollo landing sites.

Apollo Landing Sites

 

The Apollo landing sites (Image from Soerfm)

All the landings were on the near side, as it would have been far too risky to land on the far side of the Moon, where they would have been out of direct contact from the Earth.

The later missions involved the astronauts having progressively longer and  longer stays on the Moon.  For the final mission, Apollo 17, the astronauts stayed on the surface for three days and performed three separate moonwalks.

During the final three missions the astronauts used an electric-powered moon buggy to allow them to travel longer distances on the Moon – about twenty miles away from the lunar module – and thus gather rock samples from more varied sites.

Lunar Rover

The Lunar Rover or “Moon Buggy” -Image from NASA

The End of the Apollo Program

After the successful landing of Apollo 11, watched by such a huge proportion of Earth’s inhabitants, public interest in the Moon program started to wane and the US government  quickly came under pressure to reduce the spending on manned space exploration. The last three Apollo missions which should have taken place in 1973 and 1974 were cancelled.

Another victim of the spending cuts was the Moon base, which NASA had been hoping to build on the Moon in around 1980. This Moon base would gradually be extended, over the following years and decades, until it became a fully fledged lunar colony. The intention was that one day people would actually live on the Moon, but these plans were brought to a halt in the early 1970s, purely because of the cost.  Not only that, but for the last 42 years no astronaut has ventured more than a few hundred miles above the surface of the Earth.

 

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

Artist’s impression of a moon base -Image from NASA

When will humans next go to the moon ?

I think it is unlikely that the next astronauts to set foot on the Moon will be from America. NASA has no plans to go to the Moon within the next decade, because there is little political will or drive to do it.  It is unlikely that Congress would provide the funding, especially as NASA is already committed to supporting the International Space Station until at least 2020, which will reduce the money available for other manned space missions.

I think the next humans to set foot on the Moon will be from China, in around the year 2025. China has its own ambitious manned space programme, and has recently landed an unmanned probe on the Moon, which is exploring the Moon as I am writing this post.

In fact, there is so much to say about Chinese plans to explore space that I dealt with this in a separate post “Chinese Manned Spaceflight” which was posted on 16 June 2014.

 

 

Chinese Manned spaceflight

Welcome 

Welcome to the latest post from the Science Geek. The topic of this post, which is part of a series about the Moon, is the Chinese manned space programme. As I said in my last post, sadly it is now nearly 42 years since the last Apollo astronauts lifted off from the Moon’s surface and I believe the next humans to visit our nearest neighbour will be from China.

Once again I must give thanks to Mrs Geek correcting all my errors in spelling and grammar and making my posts far more readable.

Overview of Missions so Far

On 15 October 2003, Yang Liwei stepped into the Shenzhou 5 spacecraft and shortly after take off went into orbit to become the first Chinese astronaut. China then became only the third nation in the world, after Russia and the United States, to have their own space programme capable of putting a human into orbit without the assistance of any other nation.

yang liwei

Yang Liwei -The First Chinese Astronaut -Image provided by Dyor

Since that first historic flight China has launched a further five manned space missions. The last two missions, Shenzhou 9 and 10, have each had three astronauts and during the missions the astronauts have stayed in the Chinese space station, which is called Tiangong-1.  Tiangong is the Chinese for ‘heavenly palace’, which I think is a very appropriate name for a space station!

 

Tiangong1

The Shenzhou spacecraft docking with the Tiangong Space Station -Drawing by Craigboy

Forthcoming Manned Missions

Next year China plans to launch a second larger space station called Tiangong-2. This will be visited by a Shenzhou spacecraft and an unmanned spacecraft bringing supplies so as to allow the astronauts to stay longer in space.

In 2020 China plans to build a larger 60 tonne space station. This will be too large to be launched on a single rocket, so the various components or modules will be launched on different rockets and the space station will be assembled in orbit. As someone who has just moved house and put together a great deal of flat-pack furniture, I can only imagine what a feat this will be.  Once assembled, and hopefully less rickety than our new wardrobe, this will enable Chinese astronauts to have a permanent manned presence in space.

Unmanned Chinese Mission to the Moon

China has already sent three space probes to the Moon: Chang’e 1 and Chang’ e 2 (see notes) both orbited the Moon. The spacecraft were named after Chang’e who was an ancient Chinese goddess who lived on the Moon by herself with only her pet jade rabbit to keep her company.

In December 2013 the third probe , Change’e 3, performed a gentle controlled ‘soft’ landing onto the Moon’s surface, the first spacecraft to do so for nearly forty years. It had a large array of scientific instruments to study the Moon’s surface and a six wheeled rover named Yutu (Chinese for jade rabbit), which was intended to move around and explore the Moon’s surface.

Chang'e-3_lunar_landing_site

The landing site of the Chang’e 3 spacecraft and Yutu Rover – Image from NASA

Next year another unmanned probe, Chang’ e 4, will be launched to a different area of the Moon on a similar mission. More excitingly, in 2017 Chang’ e 5 will land on the Moon, collect samples of moon rock, and return them back to Earth for analysis.

Manned Chinese Mission to the Moon

For the last 10 years various statements have been made by the Chinese National Space Agency which have indicated that it is a goal for China to land humans on the Moon. Indeed at the end of last year, following the successful Chang’ e 3 landing, the People’s Daily, the official paper of the Chinese Communist Party, reported that ‘Chinese aerospace researchers are working on setting up a lunar base’.

Although no definitive time-scales have been released yet, I think it is very likely that China will  land a human on the Moon in around 2025 to 2030. The investment required will be huge. It technically far more complicated to land astronauts on the Moon, then blast off from from the Moon’s surface and return safely to Earth, than to land an unmanned space probe on the Moon’s surface.

Indeed between 1961 and the end of 1972 the United States spent the equivalent of around $140 billion in today’s money to achieve the manned moon landings. This large expenditure brought many advances. A large number of jobs in high technology industries were created. Many of the advances in electronics in the 1960s can be traced back to the space programme and there were some interesting lesser known spinoffs ranging from improvements in kidney dialysis to better home insulation. More details can be found on the following website http://spinoff.nasa.gov/apollo.htm,

National Prestige

In 1969, landing a man on the Moon gave the Americans a huge sense of national prestige.  It also confirmed their standing as the most powerful country in the world, as at the time no other country could have done this. By 2020 China will have overtaken America as the world’s largest economy. By landing a human on Moon China will confirm its new standing n the world.

Next Post

In my next post, which will be the final post in my series about the Moon, I will look forward further into the future, into the next century and beyond, and discuss moon-bases. When are humans likely to live on the Moon? Why would we want live there? And what are the obstacles to prevent us doing so?

Notes

After orbiting the Moon in mid 2011, Chang’e 2 left lunar orbit and performed a rendezvous with a nearby asteroid passing about 3 km above its surface. The spacecraft is now in interplanetary space about 100 million km from Earth. It is in full contact with mission control in China, and is proving that the Chinese can track and control probes in deep space.

 

 

 

 

Manned Missions to the Moon

Welcome

Welcome to the latest post from the Science Geek. This post, which is part of a series on the Moon, discusses manned exploration of the Moon.  I hope you enjoy reading it and, as always, please let me know if you have any comments.

I would also like, once again, to thank Mrs Geek without whose editing the blog would be full of typos and poor grammar.

Background

On 21 May 1961 President John F Kennedy made the following address to the United States Congress:

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important in the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”

Kennedy_May61

President J F Kennedy giving his address on May 25 1961- Image from NASA

At the time, which was in the middle of the cold war between the West and the Soviet bloc, the Soviet Union had a clear lead in space exploration and had achieved three notable firsts:

  • The first satellite in orbit, Sputnik 1, in October 1957
  • The first spacecraft to photograph the far side of the Moon, Lunik 3, in October 1959
  • The first man in space, Yuri Gagarin, in April 1961.

By achieving this goal of landing a man on the moon, which was incredibly ambitious given that in May 1961 America has not yet place a man in orbit, the United States would show to the whole world that it had gained supremacy over the Soviet Union in space exploration.

Why the Moon?

The Moon is our nearest neighbour in space, and Kennedy was advised that, given sufficient investment by the richest country in the world, a manned landing could be be achieved before 1970. There was also a good chance that, given the amount of resources needed to develop and test the new technologies needed, the Soviets would not be able to do it by this date.  The Soviet Union simply could not afford to spend so much money in such a short time.

The American Manned Space Program (1961 to 1969)

To achieve Kennedy’s goal, the American government funded the largest commitment every undertaken by a nation in peacetime. At its peak the programme employed nearly half a million people and its total cost (in 2014 dollars) was around $130 billion.

Apollo 11 Mission July 1969

All this effort came to successful fruition on July 20 1969, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first men to land on the moon. When Armstrong stepped out of the spacecraft he said the immortal words:

That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.

The event was shown on live TV to a worldwide audience of over 1 billion, almost a third of the population of the Earth at that time.  As a young child I was one of those billion people but not Mrs Geek, as it was past her bedtime (she was five years old).

Aldrin_Apollo_11

Apollo 11 Astronaut Buzz Aldrin on the Moon -Image from NASA

The astronauts planted the United States flag on the lunar surface in view of the TV camera. Some time later, President Richard Nixon spoke to them through a telephone-radio transmission which Nixon called “the most historic phone call ever made from the White House.”

In total the astronauts spent 2.5 hours on the lunar surface, during which time they gathered around 25 kg of moon rock. These samples would be studied by scientists over the forthcoming years and would provide new insights into the origin of the Moon.

They left behind on the Moon’s surface scientific instruments that included an array of mirrors  used to calculate the distance between the Moon and the Earth, and a seismometer used to measure moon quakes.

On their return to Earth, the astronauts were treated as heroes – but they also had to spend three weeks in quarantine, just in case they had picked up any strange and potentially dangerous diseases on in the Moon.  After that they went on a world tour in September and October, and met many prominent leaders, such as Queen Elizabeth II.

Subsequent  Missions

After Apollo 11 there were five further successful missions to the Moon (Apollos 12,14, 15, 16 and 17) plus one unsuccessful mission Apollo 13, which you may well know about from the Hollywood movie of the same name. The diagram below shows all the Apollo landing sites.

Apollo Landing Sites

The Apollo landing sites (Image from Soerfm)

All the landings were on the near side, as it would have been far too risky to land on the far side of the Moon, where they would have been out of direct contact from the Earth.

The later missions involved the astronauts having progressively longer and  longer stays on the Moon.  For the final mission, Apollo 17, the astronauts stayed on the surface for three days and performed three separate moonwalks.

During the final three missions the astronauts used an electric-powered moon buggy to allow them to travel longer distances on the Moon – about twenty miles away from the lunar module – and thus gather rock samples from more varied sites.

Lunar Rover

The Lunar Rover or “Moon Buggy” -Image from NASA

The End of the Apollo Program

After the successful landing of Apollo 11, watched by such a huge proportion of Earth’s inhabitants, public interest in the Moon program started to wane and the US government  quickly came under pressure to reduce the spending on manned space exploration. The last three Apollo missions which should have taken place in 1973 and 1974 were cancelled.

Another victim of the spending cuts was the Moon base, which NASA had been hoping to build on the Moon in around 1980. This Moon base would gradually be extended, over the following years and decades, until it became a fully fledged lunar colony. The intention was that one day people would actually live on the Moon, but these plans were brought to a halt in the early 1970s, purely because of the cost.  Not only that, but for the last 42 years no astronaut has ventured more than a few hundred miles above the surface of the Earth.

 

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

Artist’s impression of a moon base -Image from NASA

When will humans next go to the moon ?

I think it is unlikely that the next astronauts to set foot on the Moon will be from America. NASA has no plans to go to the Moon within the next decade, because there is little political will or drive to do it.  It is unlikely that Congress would provide the funding, especially as NASA is already committed to supporting the International Space Station until at least 2020, which will reduce the money available for other manned space missions.

I think the next humans to set foot on the Moon will be from China, in around the year 2025. China has its own ambitious manned space programme, and has recently landed an unmanned probe on the Moon, which is exploring the Moon as I am writing this post.

In fact, there is so much to say about Chinese plans to explore space that I will deal with this in far more detail in my next post.