On July 20, 1969, that is 50 years ago today, a United States Apollo spacecraft landed in the Sea of Tranquility on the moon's surface. Six hours later, for the first time in human history, two human beings, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, stood on the surface of another heavenly body besides earth.
I saw it live on TV. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
A lot changed at that moment. Man was seemingly capable of doing anything he put is mind to. Technology made space travel possible, and the offshoots of that effort have benefited all of mankind.
Consider that the first moon landing occurred a mere 12 years after the Soviets launched the first artificial orbiting satellite, Sputnik. That is an amazingly short period of time for so complex a project.
So, what did we gain from the Apollo moon program besides some 850 pounds of rock and soil?
There is a dizzying array of products that use technologies or materials originally developed for the space program. We'll make a list later on.
What we learned about the moon -- and the Earth and solar system -- is still being sifted through so it can be understood.
One of the profoundly significant tangible objects we got from the moon landing and the Apollo program may well have been those photos that show what the Earth looks like from the lunar surface.
According to Andrew Chaikin, author of several space and science books, including 'A Man on the Moon,' the basis for the HBO miniseries "From the Earth to the Moon," and 'Voices From the Moon,' quoted in Las Vegas Review-Journal, "There was an incredible leap in awareness that we got from looking homeward from all that distance and seeing the Earth as a precious and tiny oasis of life in the vastness of space."
"That is a very profound shift in perspective that Apollo gave us.... Earth is a world to be cherished and protected."
Bishop Dan Edwards of the Episcopal Diocese of Nevada, also quoted in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, agrees, likening those Apollo-era photos to "a God’s-eye view of the Earth and humanity. And from that perspective, we were able to see that we really are all one planet and one intricately connected ecosystem."
Wow! The earth is a special place among the heavenly bodies. It is the only place where man can live because of a delicate balance of the earth's atmosphere, light, temperature, plant and animal life. ...and of course, it is just that -- a place created in the right way by God for mankind to live here.
Back to the Apollo space program. Here is a list of spinoffs from Apollo, taken, in part, from The UK Telegraph:
- CAT scanner: this cancer-detecting technology was first used to find imperfections in spaceship components.
- Computer microchip: modern microchips descend from integrated circuits used in the Apollo Guidance Computer. (Most modern motorcycles have electronic engine controls containing integrated circuits.)
- Cordless tools: power drills and vacuum cleaners use technology designed to drill for moon samples. (All the better to work on those motorcycles of ours without being tethered to an electrical outlet.)
- Ear thermometer: a camera-like lens that detects infrared energy we feel as heat was originally used to monitor the birth of stars.
- Photography: multispectral terrain photography that uses combinations of different types of light, such as infrared and ultraviolet, reveal things not seen when using only visible light, like diseased trees or crops.
- Freeze-dried food: this reduces food weight and increases shelf life without sacrificing nutritional value.
Insulation: home insulation uses reflective material that protects spacecraft from radiation.
- Invisible braces: teeth-straightening is less embarrassing thanks to transparent ceramic brace brackets made from spacecraft materials.
- Joystick: this computer gaming device was first used on the Apollo Lunar Rover.
- Memory foam: created for aircraft seats to soften landing, this foam, which returns to its original shape, is found in mattresses and shock absorbing helmets. (Ah, another motorcycle benefit!)
- Satellite television: technology used to fix errors in spacecraft signals helps reduce scrambled pictures and sound in satellite television signals.
- Scratch resistant lenses: astronaut helmet visor coating makes our spectacles ten times more scratch resistant. (Another spinoff.)
- Shoe insoles: athletic shoe companies adapted space boot designs to lessen impact by adding spring and ventilation.
- Smoke detector: NASA invented the first adjustable smoke detector with sensitivity levels to prevent false alarms.
- Swimsuit: NASA used the same principles that reduce drag in space to help create the world’s fastest swimsuit for Speedo, rejected by some professionals for giving an unfair advantage.
- Water filter: domestic versions borrow a technique NASA pioneered to kill bacteria in water taken into space.
- Fire fighting: fire-resistant materials used in firefighting.
- Global positioning devices. (Still another indispensable spinoff we use on our bikes.)
- Electrical, hydraulic, and other systems: high-reliability for space applications.
- Materials: developed for severe space applications.
- Geo-Political: The United States had beaten the Soviets to the moon. The Soviet government had an aggressive space program, but the superiority of the United States' program resulted in a call for democratization of the USSR, specifically citing the American moon landing as evidence of the superiority of our representative democracy. (We are more free than any place in the world -- free to ride those bikes of ours anywhere we choose.)
The Apollo program affected us in another way:
- There was a whole generation of kids who began to think about careers in science and engineering. (Maybe even in motorcycle engineering.)
So if I look at the list above, which most certainly is not exhaustive, I see the foam for helmets and shoes, GPS systems, computer microchips, cordless tools for working on our bikes, and the effect on the number of young people going into engineering to develop even more sophisticated and useful products.
Our freedom, however, is perhaps the most significant of any.
So, look up before you go out riding next time, and think of all the benefits the space program has generated for us.
|Apollo 11 crew -- Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin|
- Moon landing taught us much about science — and ourselves. Las Vegas Review-Journal, July 5, 2009.
- Apollo-11-Moon Landing Top 15 NASA Inventions. The [UK] Telegraph, July 22, 2009
- Our First Lunar Program: What did we get from Apollo? Goddard SpaceFlight Center, 10/17/2007