July 2019

July 01, 2019 Posted by: Richard Fefferman
Memories of Apollo

I am just old enough that I can remember July 20, 1969 very well.  I was a few weeks short of my eighth birthday, and my parents let me stay up to see Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin come down the ladder of the Lunar Module and take their first steps on the Moon.  It really wasn’t all that late, 9:56 Central time when Armstrong said those unforgettable “One small step…” words, but these distant memories make it seem to me like it was much later at night than that.   Like many people, I marveled at the event and was inspired by the Gemini and Apollo missions to develop an interest in astronomy.  I got my first telescope a year or so later, and began a subscription to Sky & Telescope magazine with the July 1971 issue, which I still have to this very day.  Although I chose a different career, astronomy has always been an important part of my life. 

Although I certainly knew how special the moment was, I would not have understood in 1969 how remarkable the Apollo achievement was, using 1960s technology.  Still less could I have imagined that the national attitude would soon change to one of “Been there, done that….”  In the end, six Apollo missions landed successfully.  Out of an estimated 108,000,000,000 humans ever born, Armstrong and Aldrin were the first two out of just twelve to ever set foot on the Moon.   Plans have been made to send humans to the Moon again, perhaps as soon as 2024, but the excitement and adventure of these first missions can never be repeated.

In a lesser way, we can pay tribute to Apollo by viewing the landing sites ourselves, using the map below (courtesy Sky & Telescope).  Using binoculars or a small telescope, it will be easy enough to locate the Sea of Tranquility, actually a lava plain, as well as the approximate locations of the other sites.  At the Moon’s quarter-million miles distance from Earth, the Apollo sites are much too small to be seen even with the Hubble Space telescope.  However, recently the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, with a powerful camera and orbiting just 15 miles above the Moon, imaged the Lander, other items, and even Armstrong and Aldrin’s footsteps as they examined the area.

I don’t know about you, but this put shivers up my spine.  I can imagine a time in the distant future, long after I am gone, when some sort of future Park Ranger will lead tours of the Apollo 11 site to lunar tourists.  Will they be able to capture the wonder, uniqueness, and bravery of Apollo to visitors?

apollo moon template
apollo 11 site
If your 5-12 year old children are excited by space, you can inspire them by bringing them to our annual Kids’ Explorer Night at the Gateway Arch the night of Saturday, July 13, beginning at 7:15 pm. Kids can build and bring home a working telescope that works on the same principle as the one Galileo used to discover the four largest moons of Jupiter, craters on our Moon, and the phases of Venus. One telescope per family, please. The telescope making program will be followed by our Junior Ranger Night Explorer workshop, in which the children can earn a special patch available only that night. Space is limited, especially for the telescope making program. Although the program is free, you must RESERVE YOUR CHILD’S PLACE by calling 314-655-1708 and leaving a detailed message with a call back number. The program will be held in the Education Classroom on the lower level of the Arch Visitor Center.

If skies are decently clear, volunteers from the St. Louis Astronomical Society will provide free telescope viewing out on the West Entrance Plaza, from 8:30-10 pm. The almost full Moon and the planets Jupiter and Saturn will be highlighted. Call the number above the afternoon of July 13 for an update on the weather. The telescope viewing may be cancelled if the skies are too cloudy, but the Children’s workshops inside the Arch will be held regardless of the weather. Allow extra time to find parking, as the Cardinals will have a home game that night.

Last updated: July 1, 2019

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