That’s one small step…

July 20, 1969-man’s first steps on another body in space.  Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon 39 years ago today.  The moon landing represented the culmination of a decade long quest to not only beat the Russian’s, but also fulfill the wishes of a dead President.  President Kennedy challenged NASA to send a man to the moon and then return him safely to earth.  That quest claimed the lives of three astronauts in a fire during a test of Apollo’s systems.  Those three men paved the way for the most successful and reliable space transport system.  Apollo never had a flight failure.  The accident on Apollo 13 was unrelated to Apollo’s flight performance and reliability.  The system was so reliable that it is now the foundation of NASA’s next generation space transportation system that will be used to go to the moon and, perhaps, beyond.

I remember the last Apollo mission-the joint mission with the Soviet Union in 1975.  Back then, the Shuttle was the future.  I remember eagerly watching the first flight tests of the Enterprise, the test orbiter named after the mighty starship Enterprise from Star Trek.  I remember thinking ‘boy, the Enterprise is really gonna fly in space.’ Of course, it never did.  Columbia was the first shuttle to actually fly in space.  Enterprise was relegated to landing tests and engine tests and now it rests in the Smithsonian’s Space Museum annex.  The shuttle failed to deliver on it’s promise of cheap and routine access to space.  The Challenger accident in 1986 resulted not only in the deaths of it’s crew, but a rethinking of the entire space shuttle program.  The civilian aspect was severely curtailed.  The shuttle program slowly got back on track and, by 2001, was actively involved in the space station construction.  Then the Columbia accident happened.  As a result, the shuttle’s future was finally sealed: it is to be mothballed.  It’s replacement, however, won’t be ready for another five or so years.  Once again, the United States will be grounded with no active space transportation system. 

The new system, called Orion, is built largely upon the old Apollo.  As the story goes, NASA was searching anywhere it could to retrieve all information related to Apollo and it’s construction, maintenance, design, etc.  They used eBay, scoured museums, etc. to get this data.  What I find disturbing is that they did not keep this data themselves.  I guess I can understand why they didn’t, but it just seems odd to me.  At any rate, that one small step made thirty-nine years ago today will be repeated in about ten years using equipment and craft very similar to the ones used then.  I guess you could say that everything old is new again.


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