Sunday, July 5, 2009

40TH ANNIVERSARY: Moon landing taught us much about science -- and ourselves


By John Przybys
Las Vegas Review-Journal

Looking back on it, the summer of 1969 was pretty interesting.

Woodstock. Ted Kennedy and Chappaquiddick. The amazing New York Mets. Hurricane Camille.

And this: For the first time in human history, two human beings stood on the surface of another planet.

OK, it wasn't technically a planet. Just Earth's own moon. But, for a brief moment in our human timeline, absolutely everything changed.

July 20 will mark the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11's landing in the Sea of Tranquility and Neil Armstrong's historic hop, just over six hours later, onto the moon's surface.

For those who saw it live on TV, the flight of Apollo 11 was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

But, with the benefit of 40 years' hindsight, did it change us? Make us look at life differently? Give us any tangible benefits?

Andrew Chaikin hears such questions often. He's the author of several space and science books, including "A Man on the Moon," the basis for the HBO miniseries "From the Earth to the Moon," and the recently published "Voices From the Moon" (Viking Studio, $29.95), which explores the Apollo moon landings through interviews with the astronauts who manned them.

"It's impossible to avoid," Chaikin says during a phone interview from his Vermont home. "People want to know ... was it worth it?" If you're of a practical mindset, technology is as good a place to begin as any. According to NASA, the dizzying array of products that use technologies or materials originally developed for the space program includes: TV satellite dishes, medical imaging devices, the in-the-ear thermometer, fire-resistant materials used in firefighting, smoke detectors, sunglasses, cordless power tools, the Space Pen, shock-absorbing materials used in helmets, the joystick video game controllers and, even, golf balls.

And that list doesn't even count such now-taken for granted advances as global positioning devices, food freeze-drying and preservation processes, and communication and weather satellites.

"I mean, you can go on the computer and see a live weather report by satellite from halfway around the world," Chaikin notes.

In addition, the space program and Apollo moon landings were "spectacular" from a scientific perspective, Chaikin says.

"What we learned about the moon and the origin of the moon and the early history of the Earth and solar system from Apollo is still being sifted through and understood," he notes.

Read the Article HERE.

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