Renewed bid to send men to the moon again


CNN News announced on Monday 22 August that NASA was ready to undertake another spaceflight to the moon, but this time with no astronauts on board. It was to be a reconnaissance flight in preparation for a manned flight next year. It seems to be a 50th anniversary undertaking, commemorating the ‘earth stunning, gravity defying’ flight of three human beings to the moon in 1969 with two landing and walking about, planting flags too, and the third circling the moon to safely pick them up and rocket back to Earth.

A question asked by many when President John F Kennedy was assassinated on 23 August 1963, was what the ‘questioned person’ was doing when she/he heard the terrible news. The 35th President was in a motorcade with wife Jacqueline and Governor of Texas, John Connally and Nellie Connally in an open limo passing through Dulles, when Kennedy was shot; collapsed; and died on arrival in hospital.

The most vivid picture in my mind is of Jackie scrambling up the back of the car when her husband fell sideways and being covered by a fast-arriving security officer who got her back in the car. It was said she was seeking help. My theory was, she was escaping! The next scene I see in my mind’s eye is Lyndon B Johnson taking the vow of office of President of the US in the plane bringing them back to Washington DC with a calmer Jackie standing beside him in her blood-stained dress and pill box hat.

I cannot remember any details of myself – where I was, what I was doing – as I heard the news. Iask you now the same question but it’s what you were doing, where you were when Neil Armstrong spoke in a ghost voice heard over our radios on the evening of 20 July 1969. I remember clearly, I was with my newborn baby, just returned from the nursing home, but like all else, quite agog with the details of the moon-landing. Incidentally, the TV series The Crown, depicting the life of Queen Elizabeth from her childhood and accurate to a great extent, showed that Prince Philip was extremely keen to listen to the radio of the landing, insisting his family sit with him.

The Apollo lunar spaceship had three on board:  Michael Collins who flew the Command module Columbia to the moon, in lunar orbit,and back to Earth; Commander Neil Armstrong and lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin. The lunar module left the command ship and landed in Tranquility Base – named by the two astronauts. Armstrong landed first and made the momentous pronouncement: “One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” Listening to this and the description of the flight and landing, we went hot and cold with wonder and the thrill of the huge success of the moon-flight. After spending 21 hours ‘jumping’ around on the moon’s sandy surface with its craters both big and small, and hills, the lunar vehicle lifted itself and flew up to rejoin Columbia. The jump upwards as a step was taken, was because of the gravity on the moon being so much less than on earth – one eighth that of Earth’s pull.

Apollo II was launched by a Saturn V rocket from Kennedy Space Centre in Merritt Island, Florida, on 16 July. The astronauts separated the spacecraft from the rocket that lifted it and journeyed to the moon for three days until they entered the lunar orbit. They returned to Earth on 24 July splashing down in the Pacific Ocean after more than eight days in space. It was truly a marvel of a successful venture.

Remember the Russians were winning the space race by sending a dog to outer space and then the Russian Gagarin circled Earth high, far beyond the atmosphere. President Kennedy, it was he who enthused the space race and encouraged children being taught science and made university education highly desirable. He was not around to see the culmination of his drive to win in outer space, but in triumph, he was remembered. Apollo II effectively proved US victory in the space race to demonstrate they were superior in outer space;achieving a national goal proposed in 1961 by President John F Kennedy who pronounced: “Before the decade is out, a man will be landed on the Moon and return safely to Earth.”  Now fifty-three years after the historic space journey of Apollo II in 1969,a new mission to orbit the moon, is set to begin on 29 August 2022. Artemis I will be a test launch with a newly developed spacecraft Orion, to find out whether it’s the correct time to send a human crew to the moon next year. This will lead to larger numbers being landed on the moon. Travel to Mars is also being considered. Man’s spirit is ever restless.

We chose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.   John F Kennedy speaking at Rice University on 12 September,1962.