Monday, July 06, 2009

July: Celebrating Apollo 11's 40th Anniversary


In just a few weeks, the world will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the first lunar landing. Even for those of us too young to have witnessed the original event, the ghostly images of Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong walking on the moon seem to be ingrained in our collective memory. So whether you were one of millions of people glued to the tube for the original July 20, 1969 broadcast, or the lunar landing captured your imagination when you learned about it decades later, take advantage of the dozens of activities throughout July that can help you relive the excitement of the Apollo 11 mission and humankind's first step on the moon.

If 1969 or your sixth-grade science class seem pretty far away, jog your memory with the CBS broadcast. Why the terrible video? The lunar camera beamed the footage back to three tracking stations on Earth, two in Australia and one in California. The video was further compressed, degrading the quality, before being sent on to monitors at Mission Control. TV crews merely trained their camera on the monitor. But the original high-quality footage received at the tracking stations was recorded onto magnetic tape that was subsequently lost. Despite what the Daily Express writes, the original tapes have not been recently found, a NASA spokesperson told Bad Astronomy. Until we find them, pop yourself some popcorn and trawl through the exhaustive (but cumbersome) archive of lunar footage at the NASA video library.


But don't just celebrate the anniversary on YouTube. NASA has planned a month's worth of activities across the US. DC natives are in the perfect place to celebrate the 40th anniversary of this remarkable mission, because the National Air and Space Museum is holding a sort of all-month extravaganza. You can get started right away and head down to the museum this Wednesday at noon to pick the brain of a museum staff member about the lunar module, as part of the weekly "Ask an Expert" series happening throughout this month. But I'm especially excited about Sunday, July 19, an unprecedented opportunity to meet not one, not two, but three NASA astronauts! (Maybe meeting Megan McArthur set something off, but I'm definitely going to this.) Michael Collins, Alan Bean, and Buzz Aldrin will be signing copies of their respective books. Collins manned the module orbiting the moon while Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong landed on the surface. Alan Bean explored the moon's surface with the Apollo 12 mission, and also painted his experience.



And NASA's latest lunar endeavor has excellent timing; late last week NASA released some seriously high-resolution images of the moon taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. According to NASA, LRO is a scout for future lunar missions, looking for safe landing sites and resources, taking lots of data, and, most entertainingly, snapping gorgeous photos.

The press is having a lot of fun with the Apollo 11 anniversary as well. Check out The Times for everything from the audio clips British astronomers heard via radio telescope, to a writer's deconstruction of man's obsession with the moon. Popular Mechanics also has lots of goodies, and points you to the original March 1962 issue discussing NASA's plans to head moonward, as well as the coverage from the July 1969 issue.

Hilariously, if you missed it the first time, you can join a worldwide Apollo 11 reenactment via Twitter! Just follow @ReliveApollo11.

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