50TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE MOON LANDING
Last month on July 20th 2019 marked the 50th anniversary of the first manned moon landing. NASA collaborated with organisations such as the Marshall Space Flight Center and the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum to host a range of celebratory events, including a World Record attempt for launching model rockets, a technology exhibition, restoration of the Apollo Mission Control Center, and a reunion of the two surviving Apollo 11 astronauts, Edwin 'Buzz' Aldrin and Michael Collins, at the historic launch pad 39A.
Our closest celestial neighbour, the Moon has an average diameter of 3,474 km, with a 4 km variation between the equatorial and polar diameters resulting in the label of 'oblate spheroid' rather than perfectly spherical. However, despite its relatively small diameter (slightly less than the distance between Perth and Brisbane), the Moon has a surface area of 37.94 million km2, or almost 5 times larger than the area of Australia.
Similar to its shape, the Moon's orbit is not circular, but rather an ellipse whose distance from Earth can vary by up to 50,000 km each orbit, but averages at 384,402 km. Lunar orbital distance is also affected by gravitational influence from other astronomical bodies, as well as tidal interaction with the Earth, which causes the Moon to recede from the Earth at a rate of 3.8 cm per year. Since the Sun and Moon currently appear the same size due to the Sun having a diameter 400 times that of the Moon but also being 400 times further away, this recession also means that solar eclipses will eventually (in around 600 million years' time) no longer be visible, as the moon will appear too small to properly obscure the Sun.
Recent GC Skeptics in the Pub speaker and USQ astrophysicist Professor Jonti Horner compares Apollo's adventures to the Perth-Brisbane road trip, noting that the 18 Apollo astronauts who have travelled to the Moon completed the equivalent of 178 cross-country trips, or 11 months of non-stop driving, for each mission. However, thanks to 2,006,750 L of fuel, the Saturn V could reach a maximum speed of 10.42 km/s, and thus the trip to the moon was completed in just 76 hours.
Encouraged by the surrounding conflict of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, both nations competed fiercely throughout the 1960s in scientific and technologic advancement, with the USA finally taking the top conquest of the first moon walk on the 20th of July 1969. President John F Kennedy claimed “no single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.” Indeed, the Apollo program was both the most impressive achievement of the era, seen on television by an estimated 650 million people, and the most expensive in NASA's history, with a single launch of the Saturn V rocket costing $375 million in 1969, and the entire program reported as $25.4 billion (over $200 billion today). Funding for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration peaked in 1966 at 4.4% of the United States' federal budget, but has since declined after the last moonwalk in 1972 to a mere 0.4%, so it may be a while before mankind takes its next giant leap.
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