3 fascinating space facts to mark the 50th anniversary of the moon landings
The 20th of July 2019 marks 50 years since Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin (accompanied by Michael Collins who was assigned to remain in the lunar lander) became the first human beings ever to step foot on the moon. On the 16th of July 1969, just 8 years after President John F Kennedy had committed to putting a man on the moon and bringing him home safely, the Apollo 11 space shuttle took off from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida and touched down on the moon just four days later.
The moon landing remains one of the most important moments in human history. It encouraged a whole generation of children - the scientists of today and tomorrow - to look to the stars and imagine the impossible. It was a huge step in space exploration and astronomy. And it was a defining cultural moment for the United States, not least as it capped off a tumultuous decade with one of the greatest achievements of all time, but also because of the way the “space race” had become yet another battlefield in the cold war between the US and USSR.
It’s a moment that remains one of the most iconic images in the known universe. The sight of Neil Armstrong stepping across the dusty lunar surface has been etched in human consciousness for all time, even if some on the fringes cry that it was “staged." It is right, therefore, that this critical moment in human science, exploration, and culture is marked. Here are 3 fascinating facts about space exploration that you may not know in honour of the anniversary of the first moon landing.
A misheard quote
We all think we know the first words ever spoken on the moon. Anybody you asked in the street would say, without missing a beat, that the iconic quote spoken by Neil Armstrong - the words that have echoed down the years - is, of course, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Except, that might be wrong.
What Armstrong claims he actually said was “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” It’s a quote so misremembered that word processors want to correct it from “for a man” to “for man.” But Armstrong was adamant until the day he died that those were the words he actually said, though recent evidence has suggested that he did not. A number of explanations for this miscommunication have been suggested, including radio static, the large distance between Earth and the moon, and Armstrong’s soft, Ohio accent glossing over the “a”.
Over the course of humanity’s relatively short period of space exploration we have shot a lot of satellites and other machines and devices into the atmosphere. Over time many of these have become obsolete and now pointlessly orbit the Earth as man made space rubbish. Along with these, we’ve also clogged the area around Earth with bits of rockets and debris. Overall, 12,189 bits of so-called “space junk” are thought to orbit the Earth, 66.2% of which was produced by the US and Russia alone.
Can you take a pen to space?
There’s an old myth that NASA spent millions of taxpayer money developing a pen that was able to write in space after realising that regular pens would not function. Meanwhile, the Russians, so the story goes, just took a pencil. You may have heard of it. But it’s not true. In fact, NASA, initially used mechanical pencils, but when the extortionate costs of these were made public it sparked a backlash. Besides that, pencils are a poor choice for space with the tips flaking off and proving a potential hazard in a zero gravity environment. They also posed a threat through the flammable quality of graphite.
The Fisher Pen Company invested $1 million in creating what is now known as the space pen. None of the money came from NASA who only got involved after it was invented. In 1965 the company patented a pen that was specifically designed for all sorts of adverse conditions, including space. Fisher have been supplying space-ready pens to both American astronauts and Russian cosmonauts since the last 1960s, so barely any element of the story is true.