It has been 50 years since, on 20th July 1969, Neil A. Armstrong and Edwin E. Aldrin were the first humans to set foot on the moon. Together with command pilot Michael Collins, the team of astronauts was launched into space on the Apollo 11 spaceship. Now, fifty years later, the US has announced plans to send people into space again. The year 2024 is the deadline for the project Artemis, named after Apollo’s twin sister in Greek mythology, that was set by the Trump administration. However, the US are not the only ones with such plans. Also China, who has launched a number of un-crewed lunar missions in the past years, is planning a manned flight to the moon by the mid-2030.
Apollo engineer Pat Norris worked for aerospace company TRW between 1968 and 1970, where he developed algorithms for NASA’s Mission Control that navigated Apollo to and from the Moon as well as in orbit around the Moon. In an interview he tells us about the difficulties, Armstrong and Aldrin faced, when trying to land the lunar model infamously named ‘Eagle’, on the moon. “It almost landed on the edge of a deep crater”, remembers Norris. Errors in the information provided by Houston to the Eagle, two hours before the landing, meant that the computer had navigated the lunar model to a place that was not suitable for landing.
When Armstrong saw the cratered surface they were about to land on, he took over manual control of the Eagle and landed safely on an area named Tranquility Base. The landing was successful and a few hours later, an estimated 530 million people watched Armstrong and Aldrin take the first steps on the moon. Since then, a total of six crewed moon landings have taken place within the framework of the Apollo program, which ran until 1975. According to Norris, the level of interest in Apollo 11 is still enormous, as well as the fact that he worked on the program in Houston. “In London, England, where I have lived since 1980, primary school kids are especially inquisitive about what happened and when might it do so again,” says Norris.
In his new book, “Returning People to the Moon After Apollo: Will It Be Another Fifty Years?”, published by Springer-Praxis, Norris talks about the legacy of the Apollo missions and provides a comprehensive assessment of today’s programs and current plans for sending humans to the moon. Click here to find a collection of space-themed research which is free to access until August 15th 2019 and get further information on our eBook collections or email us.
To find out more about the latest NASA project in this article “Can NASA really return people to the Moon by 2024?”, on nature.com.