And returning him safely to the earth

In 1961, John F. Kennedy told 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.

The Moon landing on 20 July 1969 achieved the first part of that goal. The second part was yet to come (in 1970, that would prove to be the hard part).

But on 21 July 1969, at 17:54 UTC, the spacecraft Eagle lifted its metaphorical wings and took off from the Moon (well, the upper ascent stage took off, as shown in the photograph below). There followed a rendezvous with Columbia, a flight back to Earth, and an eventual splashdown on 24 July. Mission accomplished.

The Eagle has landed!

Fifty years ago, on 20 July 1969, at 20:17:40 UTC, the spaceship Eagle landed on the Moon. Here is the landing site – below, as it was, and above, as seen by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC). Clearly visible in the LROC image, and illustrated with inset photographs from 1969, are:

A tale of two arrivals

Fifty years ago, on 19 July 1969, the spaceship duo Columbia / Eagle entered orbit around the Moon, roughly 3 days and 4 hours after its launch, as part of the Apollo 11 mission. Eagle (with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin) went on the land on the moon on 20 July while Columbia (with Michael Collins) continued to orbit the moon. When he announced the space programme, Kennedy had said:

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

Much can be learned from doing hard things, and an enormous amount was learned from the space programme. Solar car teams also learn a great deal from doing hard things. Fifty years after Columbia and Eagle entered orbit, also after hard effort, the University of Michigan Solar Team’s solar car Electrum arrived in public view (at 17:30 Michigan time). They intend to win too!

A tale of two launches

Fifty years ago, on 16 July 1969, a Saturn V rocket carrying three men (Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins), plus the command module Columbia, and the lunar module Eagle, took off from Florida, en route to the first human landing on the moon (above).

Fifty years later, the Dutch Vattenfall Solar Team launched their 10th solar car, Nuna X (below). Catamaran-style solar cars seem to have reached an optimum: the front of Nuna X looks a lot like Nuna 9 and the rear looks a little like Twente’s Red E and Agoria’s Punch 2 – but only on the left side! The new car weighs just 135 kg (298 lbs), which is probably the lightest ever solar car. I think that Twente, Agoria, and everybody else will have their work cut out trying to outrace this latest car from Delft!

The Dish: a movie review

Movie poster

The Dish is a classic Australian comedy from 2000, telling the story of how the CSIRO Parkes Observatory assisted with the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Movie trailer

The film contains some technical errors and oversimplifications, notably inventing some episodes for dramatic effect, cutting the telescope’s staff headcount, and downplaying the role of the Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station (which was closed in 1981). However, those simplifications were probably necessary for dramatic reasons (see also CSIRO’s “fact vs fiction” list and history pages). The movie does get across the sense of excitement of the Apollo programme, as well as reminding us what the 60’s were like, and giving a light-hearted view of the cultural differences between Australia and the USA. And, of course, it’s very funny.

PDP-9 at the Monash University Computer Museum

Veteran actor Sam Neill does a great job in the film, as does the rest of the cast. The Dish also has superb props, including authentic vintage technology, such as the DEC PDP-9 shown above. Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a 96% rating. It’s certainly worth watching!

The dish is still operating at Parkes (photo: John Sarkissian, CSIRO Parkes Observatory)

Parkes is still very active scientifically; recent papers include “The Parkes Pulsar Timing Array Project” and “Parkes full polarization spectra of OH masers – I. Galactic longitudes 350° through the Galactic Centre to 41°.”

* * * *
The Dish: 4 stars

National Air and Space Museum, Washington, D.C.

The National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. (photo by David Bjorgen)

I have already written about the National Air and Space Museum’s surprisingly good country cousin in Kansas. The larger museum on the National Mall in Washington is an absolute must-see (and try to visit the annex at Dulles International Airport as well).

National Air and Space Museum entrance hall, with the Apollo 11 command module on the left (photo by Jawed Karim)

There is lots to see in the Washington museum – the Apollo 11 command module and the Wright brothers’ aircraft, for example – and lots to do. And the museum is free, although the IMAX theatre, planetarium, and flight simulators are not. For young children, there are story times. See also the floor plans and a list of aircraft on display at this superb museum.

An interactive exhibit (photo by Fritz Geller-Grimm)

If you can’t visit, there are online exhibits, a multimedia gallery, a blog, and images and video from the public observatory.

Aircraft on display – including, on the right, the opportunity to enter a 747 cockpit (my photo)

Note: the museum is currently closed due to the US federal government shutdown.