It was only one step, but what a step. 50 years ago, on July 20th 1969, the moon landing was seen live by 20 percent of humanity, making the event truly global in scope. Born of Cold War rivalry between two superpowers, the space race mobilized the scientific and technological resources of the time and helped transform the way we saw humanity’s place in the universe and continues to inspire new generations to aim for the stars. The Winnipeg Library has a large and fascinating collection about space exploration and the moon landings for you to explore.
Of course, the Apollo 11 flight did not happen overnight and it is easy to forget how much efforts, time and resources was needed to achieve the first moon landing, not to mention the countless attempts and failures to create the conditions to successfully fly men to the moon and return them safely to Earth. The Russians were the first to send probes into space (the famous Sputnik satellite) in 1957, followed by the first man in space in 1961, with the United States struggling at first to catch up, before pledging to land a man on the moon before 1970. As Charles Fishman mentions in the intro to his book One Giant Leap: The Untold Story of How We Flew to the Moon: “When Kennedy announced that goal, no one knew how to navigate to the Moon. No one knew how to build a rocket big enough to reach the Moon, or how to build a computer small enough (and powerful enough) to fly a spaceship there. No one knew what the surface of the Moon was like, or what astronauts could eat as they flew there. ” Fishman’s book is a delight to read, providing a great overview of the American space program’s many achievements and reverses that led to Apollo 11 as well as how it changed the world we live in today. The progress made with the Mercury and Gemini programs (which preceded the Apollo flights) and the pioneering work done by the Soviet space program and German scientist Werner Von Braun are also highlighted.
The names Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders may not be as well-known as that of Neil Armstrong or Buzz Aldrin, and yet they were the first human beings to leave earth’s orbit and make a round-trip to the moon. As related in Rocket men : the daring odyssey of Apollo 8 and the astronauts who made man’s first journey to the moon by Robert Kurson, by August 1968, the American space program was in danger of failing in its two most important objectives: to land a man on the Moon by President Kennedy’s end-of-decade deadline, and to triumph over the Soviets in space. The book tells of the gamble that NASA took in radically advancing its timetable to send its first rocket to the moon while using new and untested technology that would be used by Apollo 11 a few months later. A new HBO documentary about the Apollo 8 mission, Apollo’s Daring Mission, is also available on DVD.
For an excellent, up-to-date read about the event itself, Rod Pyle’s First on the Moon : the Apollo 11 50th anniversary experience is a strong recommendation, filled with firsthand accounts from the astronauts and their families and friends and written in an accessible style with gorgeous illustrations. The Apollo 11 mission is told in exciting details, including the tense moments when Neil Armstrong had to make last-minute corrections to safely land the lunar module in the Sea of Tranquility. This is not the first book that this author has written about space exploration and it shows in his exhaustive research and his inclusion of archival documents and newly-available pictures.
If you interested about learning more about the man himself, Neil Armstrong : a life of flight by Jay Barbree is the inside story of Neil Armstrong from the time he flew combat missions in the Korean War and then flew a rocket plane called the X-15 to the edge of space, to when he saved his Gemini 8 by flying the first emergency return from Earth orbit and then flew Apollo 11 to the moon’s Sea of Tranquility. Working from 50 years of conversations he had with Neil, from notes, interviews, NASA spaceflight transcripts, and remembrances of those Armstrong trusted, Barbree writes about Neil’s three passions: “flight, family, and friends”.
You might be asking what does it matter that we landed on the moon after 50 years? That is the question Roger Launius explores in Apollo’s Legacy: Perspectives on the Moon Landings. Launius doesn’t shy from presenting opposite views about the legacy of a program that was attacked by both sides of the political aisle even at the time the missions were underway for being too expensive in both treasures and lives. The success of the Apollo program, and the heroes it created, helped inspire a generation and solidified the United States at the cutting edge of scientific progress. It also produced enduring conspiracy theories and even denials of the program’s existence. Though the immense effort and mobilization necessary would not have been possible outside of the Cold War, the nations of Earth, including Canada, have since sent more people in space as well as more automated probes to explore the planets in and outside our solar system.
What about the next 50 years: what breakthroughs will humanity accomplish in space? Will we reach Mars and beyond?