While watching the reports of the Moon Landing of Apollo 11 some 40 years ago, I could not remember if I had watched the live landing on a color television. We had to do some arithmetic to get the answer and the answer is no – it was on a black and white television.
To see the landing and Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin taking those huge steps on the moon in color today was amazing, as was hearing that television cameras were a last minute add on – strongly unwanted by the crew and technicians because they would be an unwanted distraction and additional technology that served little interest.
The technology used to get the rocket to the moon is now so outdated and antiquated but has led to so much as a consequence, such simple things like Sat Nav, GPS, Google Earth, Satellite television to name but a few!
Armstrong, Collins & Aldrin in 1969
Aldrin, Collins and Armstrong in 2009
As a side point, I was interested to hear that Australia was the only country to witness the event live on television due to the satellite base station in the Southern Hemisphere (monitoring the mission at that particular time) at Honeysuckle Creek outside our nation’s capital of Canberra, subsequently taking 6 seconds to beam to the US and around the world. The Australian scientist monitoring the craft and health of the crew have commented that Neil Armstrong’s heartrate was 120 beats per minute when he stepped on the moon – this sounds relatively normal for the average folk, but considering his pulse was 84 beats per minute at launch, the significance of the occasion was not lost on him.
Listening to the interviews of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins, to see clips of the women making the space suits with old industrial sewing machines and by hand and to know that there were 6,000 pieces in the rocket that could fail, to see the work, triumph (Apollo 8’s orbit) and tragedy that had enabled them to succeed in this mission, was truly astounding.
The computer on board had a 67Kb hard drive (about the equivalent of late 1980’s Casio digital wristwatch, for those that remember them). Could anyone today run a computer with only that amount of power (Buzz in fact commented that his Blackberry has about six times the power)! The rocket was over 100 metres high and was like blasting an entire office block into space.
Why did they do it? The Cold War was very much an issue, and the race between America and Russia was fierce. John F. Kennedy wanted America to be the first country to land on the Moon and provided the open cheque book, vision and motivation that was ultimately required.
Technology is amazing, as is human genius and our thirst for scientific understanding and knowledge. For any cynicism or claims of Apollo 11 (and indeed the future missions) being a hoax, conspiracy theories are far simpler than the effort of the thousands upon thousands of people involved in the missions who achieved so much. Such disrespect is unfortunate but inevitable. Great things really can be achieved.
Finally, Neil Armstrong noted that they’d traveled all that way to land on the moon yet the most spectacular sight to see was the Earth from afar. It was fragile, it was colorful, and no borders or political issues seemed to matter.
Perhaps this point is the most profound result of this remarkable moment in history.
More information: see the 12 astronauts that walked on the moon