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Space Travel

The Eagle has Landed—
Leaving Our Ancient World

An inspiring legacy, but can we do it again?

American astronaut Buzz Aldrin standing in his space suit on the Moon during the Apollo 11 mission. Image Credit: NASA
On July 20, 1969, a little over 40 years ago, two men landed on the Moon — the first landing in history of humans on an extraterrestrial body. Twenty percent of the planet was estimated to have watched the momentous first steps of Neil Armstrong as he descended to the lunar surface and said, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

There were five Apollo landings on the Moon after Apollo 11. One mission however, Apollo 13, came back in failure, almost costing the lives of its three astronauts. The last mission to land men on the lunar surface was Apollo 17, December 11, 1972.

The Constellation program which will succeed the Shuttle program for manned, near-Earth missions, was slated also to return men to the Moon by June, 2019 in the tentatively planned Orion 15 mission — almost exactly fifty years after the first lunar landing. But will budget constraints place this dream forever on hold?

The United States and the former Soviet Union (Russia) have been in space for half a century. Since Apollo, there have been many newcomers. Several private companies are working on space vehicles, most notably Scaled Composites SpaceShipOne and Virgin Galactic, but these are, for the near future, only near-Earth missions (low Earth orbit and sub-orbital flights). The European Space Agency, made up of several nations, has been been successful in sending both commercial and scientific payloads into space, but they've also made arrangements with Russia to develop a craft that could take men to the Moon and even Mars. The other national space agencies with launch capabilities and which operate satellites are, India, Iran, Israel, Japan, Korea and Ukraine. In addition to launch capabilities and the operation of satellites, China also has a manned space program. Several other nation's space agencies operate satellites — Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Malaysia, Indonesia, Argentina, Taiwan, Nigeria and Pakistan. The Indian agency has already broadened its horizons with an unmanned lunar orbiter and has proposed a manned space mission by 2015, possibly for near-Earth orbit. And in 2005, the deputy commander of the Chinese manned spaceflight program announced intentions to put men on the Moon by 2020.

With the current economic crisis, there is a real concern that man's return to the Moon may be jeopardized or postponed. And the wars we wage are far more expensive. Let us hope that peace will allow us to spend our funds on something more constructive for humanity's future. There was at one time plans in NASA to send men to Mars by the 1980's, but the Vietnam War was too expensive and the program had to be cancelled.

The Value of Apollo's Legacy

Apollo has left us with the inspiration to do great things — to dream the impossible dream. An idea becomes truly impossible if it is never dreamed in the first place, but the dream must be followed by thoughtful action. From the ground crews and engineers to the astronauts who actually walked on the Moon, they have shown us how to realize a powerful dream. That may be enough value, but the hope is that something more permanent will come of those first few small steps.

A permanent presence, not only in near Earth orbit, but on the Moon and also Mars, would be far more fulfilling. Yet, would such footholds in the universe remain too tenuous — like the Viking presence in North America? Those brave Norsemen and women lost their foothold in the "New World." Will we find future economic concerns or warfare forcing us to withdraw from the heavens? Or will there be Martians — citizens of the red planet with roots on the blue one? Let us hope so. For then the dream of Apollo will have yielded a perennial fruit.


The Apollo 11 crew. From left-to-right, Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, Buzz Aldrin.
The Saturn V rocket with Apollo 11 lunar payload on transporter and on its way to the launch pad.
The Saturn V rocket on the launch pad undergoing Apollo 11 launch preparations.
The flame of thrusters brightening the launch pad. Apollo 11 is on its way.


Video: Neil Armstrong's Historic Moment



More Pictures of Apollo 11


Apollo 11 slowly lifts off the launch pad.
Launch of Apollo 11 seen beyond American flag with stage separation under way.
Apollo 11's Eagle Lunar Module in orbit about the Moon.
Buzz Aldrin inside the Apollo 11 Lunar Module.
Neil Armstrong on the Moon establishing the Apollo 11 Tranquility Base.
Buzz Aldrin looking back toward the Apollo 11 Tranquility Base.
Buzz Aldrin and the Apollo 11 solar wind experiment.
Apollo 11's Buzz Aldrin saluting the American flag.
The Eagle lunar module returning to lunar orbit for rendezvous with the Apollo 11 command module, piloted by Michael Collins.
Apollo 11 splashdown.
One of the legacies of Apollo 11 — Buzz Aldrin's boot print. No wind will blow this print away.
Another legacy of Apollo 11 — a gold olive branch left on the Moon by Neil Armstrong. Of course, this photo was taken prior to launch.

All photos courtesy NASA.
"List of space agencies,", retrieved 2009:0116
"Chinese space program,", retrieved 2009:0116
"European Space Agency,", retrieved 2009:0116
"Indian Space Research Organisation,", retrieved 2009:0116