One Small Step…50 Years Later
Fifty years ago today, the world watched in wonder as they witnessed, for the first time, a human being step foot on a celestial body other than Earth.
The famous “giant leap for Mankind” will forever remain a major milestone in space exploration and a turning point for our society itself. Suddenly our dreams of exploring other worlds weren’t just dreams anymore. They were becoming reality.
The Apollo 11 mission that brought Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon occurred during the height of the Cold War and was itself a product of a nearly fifteen year long Space Race in which the Americans and Soviets competed fiercely to achieve important space “firsts” before the other. The United States didn’t get all of them, but when Neil Armstrongs boot hit the lunar surface on July 20, 1969, they got the one that mattered most.
The Apollo missions successfully paved the way for the Space Shuttle program and even into the 21st century the human zeal for space exploration continues unabated.
Now, half a century after the Moon landing, younger generations hope to one day see a Mars Landing. Mars is the next logical step but getting there is a lot more complex than getting to the Moon and getting the Moon was not exactly easy. In fact, some 400 000 (yes, four HUNDRED THOUSAND) people were involved in the Apollo 11 mission in some way.
The challenges in getting to Mars are many but there are two major issues. Firstly, Mars is farther away from Earth than the moon. Much farther. The distance between the Earth and the Moon is around 239 000 miles. The shortest distance between the Earth and Mars (they are both in constant motion so they are sometimes closer together and sometimes farther apart) is approximately 34 MILLION miles. That’s one hundred and forty times the distance between the Earth and the Moon. As you can probably guess, it would take a lot more energy to get us to Mars than we used to get to the Moon.
The second major issue is one of sacrifice. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin got to go home when their mission was over. The first manned mission to Mars, whenever it may happen, will in all likelihood be a one way trip.
Despite this, there will no doubt be people eager to sign up for such a mission. That is the unending human curiosity about unexplored places. That is the constant human desire for adventure and that is the dream of being part of something that would spark the same sense of wonderment the Moon landing did fifty years ago.
It’s likely that at some point in the distant future, technology will advance to the point where we’ll be able to send manned missions outside our own Solar System and maybe even our own Galaxy. As cool as that will be, perhaps even more amazing is realizing that it all began with a single boot touching the lunar surface in July 1969.
One giant leap indeed.