Moon tales: One giant leap

David Light
Filed on July 16, 2009

Four decades ago today, manís greatest extraterrestrial endeavour took off from Kennedy Space Centre with the mission to put a man on the moon. City Times takes a look at this pivotal moment in human history

It was a question that troubled scientists, astronomers and dreamers alike for centuries: would man ever walk on the moon? From manís earliest records, the Earthís only natural satellite has been the subject of intrigue and in many civilisations an object of idolisation. Its ever changing shape in the sky was one of the first measures of time and throughout the ages countless studies had been made, many concluding inaccurately, before Galileo drew one of the first telescopic impressions of the moon in 1609. Later that century many of the craters were given their names by Giovanni Battista Riccioli and Francesco Maria Grimaldi that are still used today.

Manned exploration of the moon remained a stretch too far for scientists until sci-fi writer Jules Verne published From the Earth to the Moon in 1865, which captured the publicís imagination and actually bore striking similarities (a result of Verneís academic research) to the actual moon mission that was to take place over a hundred years later.

At nine oíclock in the morning EDT on July 16, 1969 Mission Commander Neil Armstrong, Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin and Command Module Pilot Michael Collins lined up to board Apollo 11 in mankindís first attempt to land a man on the moon. Eight years after the Soviets had successfully launched a man into space, this was make-or-break time to not only achieve what was once thought impossible, but to cement Americaís place as the planetís foremost superpower and beat Russia to the ultimate prize in the space race.

Apollo 11 and its mission was the culmination of almost ten years work since President Kennedy vowed to put a man on the moon and have them safely return to Earth by the end of the sixties. It was just past 5.30 pm in what is now the UAE when the Saturn V rocket took the three astronauts into the pages of history. Four relatively trouble-free days of space travel followed before Aldrin and Armstrong separated from the command module and descended in the lunar module, Eagle, onto the moonís surface. On July 20 at 10.56 pm (July 21, 6.56 am UAE) Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the moon and gave one of the most famous speeches ever made. Wherever, they were people from around the entire globe crowded around television sets to watch the first pictures being beamed live from the surface of the moon. In America and Europe, children and their parents stayed up late whilst further east it was an early morning rise to witness this feat of human endeavour that resonates just as much today as it did then.

The time spent by Armstrong and Aldrin on the surface of the moon totalled 21 Ĺ hours, however only 2 Ĺ of those were spent walking outside their lunar module. The pair eventually rejoined Collins, who was orbiting the entire time, and the three heroes started their long journey home, eventually splashing down on July 24, their legendary status confirmed.

Surprisingly, after the initial hype which brought the four corners of the globe together in admiration, interest in space travel and lunar missions waned very quickly. Only five more missions made it to the moon before the Apollo programme was scrapped in 1973. No one has set foot on the moon since December 1972 and it is only recently that countries have started to raise the prospect of returning, many including the US, Russia and China hope to have someone there by 2020.

As this is the fortieth anniversary of the first lunar landing, City Times thought it was best to highlight a relatively unknown film which recaptures the magic and excitement of those few days in 1969 perfectly, Moonwalk One.

Six weeks before Apollo 11ís launch, NASA commissioned Theo Kamecke to make a feature documentary of the flight. What Theo made, however, went far beyond the realms of standard documentary making and was one of those rare occasions where art and reality blended seamlessly to produce a body of work that has stood the test of time. Moonwalk One opens dramatically with shots of another of mankindís great achievements, Stonehenge. These opening pictures set the awe-inspiring tone and put the event into context as being completely unique to that time period and a testament to the amazing deeds man can accomplish. Filmed across the world as the mission unfolded, Moonwalk One uniquely captures the essence of Apollo 11 as a result of Kameckeís unique access to all facets of the mission along with his innate filmmaking sense, which tapped into the human intrigue and energy that prevailed at the time.

Combined with Charles Morrowís breathtaking, avant-garde score and Laurence Luckinbillís inspiring narration, this energy is captured on celluloid forever and makes for fascinating viewing today from a 21st century perspective. Kevin Saunders of ABC TV said in 1972, when the documentary was first released, ďThe documentary overwhelmingly captures the sense of paradox by contrasting all banal vulgarity that surrounded the noble impulse. The commentary is sparse and simple. This is the first documentary worthy of the immensity of the moon launch itself and the first to take a truly global view and capture a sense of nostalgia for the planet we began to love only as we left it.Ē One would have to agree with these sentiments even today. The film contrasts the militaristic/ scientific nature of the mission with the backdrop of the swinging sixties. The juxtaposition of clean cut spacemen with the millions of hippies, beatniks and free love proponents that came to marvel at them in the beginning is inspired. Each shot tells its own story so much that very few words are needed. The soundtrack is a lesson in the more obscure sixties bands but each piece of music is more than justified.

Today, working closely with Theo, the producers have re-mastered his documentary classic for future generations to enjoy. Combining the only existing full-length 35mm print with recently restored NASA film shot by the astronauts themselves, they have created a vibrant new High Definition digital master of the movie. Together with a directorís commentary, a host of extra features and a new 5.1 sound track, this is indeed the ultimate time capsule, recording the last year of the 1960s and the historic flight of Apollo 11.

This film is available online at www.moonwalkone.com. Whether you wish to watch the movie or just commemorate in your own way, over the next few days just spare a thought for the events of 1969. They have gone on to shape the world we know today and for the briefest of moments, on July 20th, the planet was united in a shared sense of wonder and achievement. Who knows when that will happen next?


The distance to the moon from the Earth is 384, 403 km

The moon orbits the Earth every 27.3 days

The moon is a little over a quarter the size of the Earth

Its name is Germanic, related to the Latin mensis (month) and comes from the Proto-Indo-European root, me-, also represented in measure

Despite the US landing on the moon they do not own it. Russia and the US are part of the Outer Space Treaty which places the moon under the same jurisdiction as international waters.

Commemoration songs

Get yourself in the mood for a bit of a celebration with these lunar classics

Moon River - Henry Mancini

Fly Me to the Moon- Frank Sinatra

To the Moon and Back- Savage Garden

Bark at the Moon- Ozzy Osbourne

Dancing in the Moonlight- Toploader

Apollo 11ís similarities with From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne

Verneís cannon to shoot the astronauts to the moon was called Columbiad, the Apollo 11 Command Module was called Columbia

In both cases the crew of the spacecrafts consisted of three members

The physical dimensions of the projectile in the book are very close to those of the Apollo Command/ Service Module

Verneís voyage took off from Florida, as did the Apollo mission

Apollo 11 Trivia

Neil Armstrong received average grades at Purdue College after turning down MIT

Buzz Aldrinís real name is Edwin Eugene Aldrin Jr.

Major General Michael Collins was born in Rome, Italy

Apollo 11 brought home 21.55 kg of moon rock samples

The round trip to the moon took exactly 8 days 3 hours 18 minutes and 35 seconds at a cost of $355 million ($1.75 billion today)

Are you still disappointed that those stories of a lunar base, touted since the fifties, still havenít come to fruition? We know we are, so it came as good news (not words you can normally use in conjunction with the following name) when George Bush announced that plans for a new lunar base were being reviewed by NASA as a stop off point for a trip to Mars. The Vision for Space Exploration was one of the few Bush policies which got people excited, so make sure you check it out.



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