The Moon has been present seemingly just overhead in the night sky for all of human history, sometimes full, sometimes new, but always in mankind’s imagination.
The Christian Bible refers to the moon 120 times. It casts the Moon as a simile for a degree of glory: "There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory." (1 Corinthians 15:41, KJV). The full moon is the brightest object in the sky—unlike the stars, it cast shadows—and weaker than the Sun’s light:, its light distorts colours: Cold-hearted orb that rules the night, driving colours from our sight, red is gray and yellow white... " (Edge, Graham. "Late Lament " album Nights of Future Past, 1967). The Greeks and Romans attributed these qualities to one of their deities: Artemis (Greek) and Diana (Romans).
The first workday of the week is named after the Moon: Monday (English), Montag (in German), lunes (Spanish), and so on.
Do not forget the Man in the Moon. The Moon presents the same side to the Earth due to a combination of gravitational and orbital motions, and that side shows the face of the "Man in the Moon."
After Rome’s fall and subsequent Dark Ages, the Moon became an object of scientific study by astronomers armed with new telescopes. They found broad, flat areas that looked like Earth's seas, so they called them "maria", Latin for seas. They also saw mountains. Then the goddess slowly became a rock in the sky and a potential destination.
Jules Verne's From Earth to the Moon and Round the Moon was one of the most famous of many literary voyages to the Moon (and other places). It predicted much of the mission profile followed 104 years after its publishing by the real mission in 1969.
Rocket propulsion was known to the ancient Greeks. Marco Polo probably witnessed the use of solid fueled missiles (military rockets) during his expedition in the 1200's. But those were solid fuel rockets, which like fire crackers and bullets are uncontrollable once launched—one aims and fires them and watch them go. Nevertheless, they are used as boosters, like on the space shuttles.
Liquid fuel rockets are like airplanes—you can throttle their exhaust, preferable for space exploration. Robert Goddard pioneered the use of liquid fuel rockets in 1926. Dr. Wernher von Braun continued their development in Germany and was “drafted” by Hitler to use them as weapons during World War II. After the war, both the United States and the USSR used German scientists to develop the liquid fuel technology, at first to protect their countries, then for space exploration.
The International Geophysical Year, 1957-8, saw a concentration of earth and space research by many nations world-wide, and was when the “Space Race” began—both the United States and the Soviet Union (USSR) announced they would be orbiting unmanned satellites. The USSR’s Sputnik became the first object to orbit the Earth followed by the United States’ Explorer series. Soviet Luna probes were to first to leave near-Earth space, and crash into the moon followed by Ranger. Manned space flight began with Yuri Gagarin’s orbital flight in April 1961, followed by Alan B. Shepard’s suborbital mission in May.
United States President John F. Kennedy committed to a manned lunar landing by the end of the 1960’s, which allowed only nine years to go from suborbital flight to exploitation of another world. The U.S. trip to the Moon was a three step progression: Mercury (one manned limited duration flights), Gemini (two-manned orbital flights developing skills such as space-walking and rendezvous with another satellite), and Project Apollo (lunar exploration and landing). Each space flight taught more essential skills. Like the saying states, “Every step on the road to discovery is a stride into the unknown” (Anon). Note that in Greek mythology, Apollo and Diana were twins.
This landing took place 45 years ago to-day, 20 July 1969 in front of some 600 million people watching blurry images of first Neil Armstrong, then Buzz Aldrin taking the first human steps on another world. Their compatriot, Michael Collins circled the moon above, anxiously hoping for their return, and ready to receive them when they returned to prepare for the trip back to Earth.
Their trip started on the 16th atop of a rocket, the Saturn V, longer than a football field’s 120 yards (including end zones) which generated more than nine million pounds of thrust (total), and made the Earth three miles away shake. With all that, only a craft the size of a Ford Focus or Chevy Volt would bring the astronauts back to Earth.. And when they did arrive to Earth, they were immediately isolated in a quarantine facility in case they brought back moon microbes along with the lunar rocks.
Columbia was the name of the Command module. They rode in the Command Module, commanded by Michael Collins. The Service Module provided propulsion, oxygen, water, and electricity for the CM astronauts. Eagle was the name for the Lunar Module which some people called Lunar Excursion Module, or LEM. It had a descent engine to bring them to a (hopefully) soft landing and an ascent engine to hopefully take them back to the orbiting Columbia, which would then take them almost back to Earth’s atmosphere, which would then separate from the Service Module and land in the ocean.
It had never been done before. Apollo 8 had entered lunar orbit in December 1968 from which a different set of astronauts had broadcast a Christmas message to the world. Apollo 10 had tested the LEM descent engine in May, descending to within 10 miles of the lunar surface before returning to its CM/SM and returning to Earth successfully. But the whole mission had never been done before, until Apollo 11, the third near-lunar mission, and the first ever landing.
Neil Armstrong was the mission commander; Buzz Aldrin was the Eagle’s pilot. It was supposed to be a computer-guided descent, but the computer was taking them to a boulder field, and they were running out of fuel. When the Eagle did land, the astronauts dubbed it Tranquility Base and called Mission Control Centre in Houston, Texas, USA to announce the new status. And Houston replied that “there were a bunch of people about to turn blue…” holding their breath in anticipation.
It had never been done before.
But since then, there were five more landings, with the last one delivering a go-cart to increase the range of exploration. One other flight, Apollo 13, had an explosion in the Service Module, which caused them to use the LEM as a stand-in service module. They did not land, but they made it back alive.
After Apollo 17 in 1972, it was never done again. Mr. Armstrong has died, Mr. Aldrin has been advocating a trip to Mars, and Michael Collins is still married to his first wife, and has had a rich but quiet career after NASA. Meanwhile, China, European Space Agency, India, Iran, Israel, Japan, Republic of Korea, Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, and the Ukraine have joined the United States and Russia in unmanned space exploration. Manned space exploration is still in Earth orbit mainly from an International Space Station, but various plans are being made for a return to the Moon and eventually Mars.
It had never been done before. They had faith that it would be done.
"One small step for a man; a giant leap for mankind" is what the author and a half billion other people heard Neil Armstrong say as he stepped into another world. Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins had spent about three years for preparation, training and anticipation for that step. They left a plaque on the Moon: “…they came in peace for all mankind…” vicariously they traveled for pioneers like Gagarin, Amelia Earhart, the folks in Sacramento, that built the thrusters , and people elsewhere that built the engines, flight control systems, and all the other components and other components of the spacecraft. It was a culminating step for a man--Mr. Armstrong. But from before the time the Bible was written until 20 July 1969 mankind had been preparing to make that 240,000 mile leap of faith .