On 20th July 1969, over 600 million people across the world were glued to their TV screens as broadcasts of USA’s manned Apollo 11 mission landed on the surface of the Moon were shown. This landing became one of the most iconic landmarks in human history as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped foot onto the Moon for the first time. It marked the beginning of numerous experiments performed in order to learn more about Earth’s largest natural satellite.
Undoubtably, this landing is historically important, as it was a culmination of the rivalry between USA and Russia during the Cold War, commonly known as the ‘Space Race’. By landing the first ever spacecraft on the Moon in 1959 and having Alexei Leonov perform the first spacewalk in 1965, Russia had seemingly dominated this race; until the Apollo 11 landing 50 years ago. As well as winning the race against the Russians, the mission was also predominantly led by scientific curiosity.
The scientific goals for the landing were to bring back lunar rock, pebble and soil samples to see what materials the Moon has on its surface, and to see whether these minerals could be found anywhere on Earth. At the meticulously chosen landing site in the Sea of Tranquillity, Armstrong and Aldrin collected 21.5kg of lunar material to bring back to Earth to be analysed. From the samples, three new minerals and only two types of rock were found, all of which could also be found on Earth. These samples were used to find the composition of the Moon, and to fine-tune some theories as to how the Moon was created.
This iconic mission was one of the first steps into space exploration, and organisations such as NASA, ESA and Roscosmos (Russian Space Agency) have progressed and sent many different shuttles up to the Moon and even further afield, such as the outer solar system planets. With this, many more experiments have been carried out, such as finding the composition of atmospheres of different planets with the solar system, and this has helped create a wider understanding of the Universe around us.
Space exploration has also recently become commercialised for us civilians, with companies such as Virgin Galactic, SpaceX and Blue Orbital promising to send members of the public to the Moon within the next few years. With these ventures, it is important to look back at missions, such as Apollo 11, and give our thanks and appreciation to the hardworking and dedicated scientists and engineers that made this possible 50 years ago.