Neil's small step

Partial lunar eclipse

Partial lunar eclipse

Another day, another notable anniversary. Today marks 40 years since Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon (seen in partial eclipse in the picture to the left, from 2/2008). One could say that was the culmination of the engineering and sweat that was launched when JFK issued his challenge of “landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth" in his special message to a joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961. However, it was also the start of what some still consider the glory days of space exploration.

I was not quite seven when the Eagle landed, and I have a vague memory of the event. I remember that my Aunt Frances had taken me to the home of a friend of hers (she has a group of friends she calls the “potluck group" who had gathered). The two things that stick with me from that day are swimming in a pool in the back yard, and going inside to see Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin step onto the moon.

It wasn't many years after that event when I became deeply interested in the space program. I was never much into model cars or airplanes, but I had a model of a Saturn V rocket. I read and absorbed all the information I could get on the US space program, and naturally that led to a deep interest in astronomy.

For those who either don't remember or wanted to relive the events in July 1969, We Choose the Moon is a web site which recreated in real time the Apollo 11 mission from lift-off to stepping on the moon. It's part of the JFK Presidential Library & Museum, and after recreating the first moon walk, it changed over to being a site where one can explore all the different stages. There are lots of pictures and video clips available.

Speaking of video clips, NPR had a story last week about how tapes of the original footage of the Apollo 11 moon walk were probably destroyed. At the time, NASA was erasing old tapes so they'd have blank media to record satellite data, and since the footage from July 20, 1969 can't be found, the conclusion is they no longer are around. However, NASA contracted a digital restoration from the best possible broadcast footage so it looks better than before. Sadly, the erased tapes were of much higher quality since the signal coming from the moon was superior because the conversion to what could be broadcast caused a lot of degradation.

Another story which has recently hit the press was the auction of a check signed by Neil Armstrong. He owed NASA manager Harold Collins $10.50 and wrote a check in case anything happened, asking it not be cashed because Armstrong said he would return. The check indeed was never cashed and sold for over $27,000 last week.