Moons of our Solar System
Moons of our Solar System

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Moons of our Solar System

1.6 Going to the Moon

Later this week you’ll learn more about the Apollo missions and earlier missions to the Moon. Although Apollo 11 was the first mission to put humans on the Moon, it was not the first spacecraft to land. Two earlier Apollo missions had orbited without landing and several unmanned probes had landed. The Soviet Union had crash-landed a probe as early as 1959. On the American side, the Mercury (1961–63) and Gemini (1964–66) programmes confronted the problems that needed to be solved before a trip to the Moon could be launched.

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I always remember coming home one night, I had been working late in the lab, dealing with, with lunar samples, and actually lunar soil is very sticky and it, it was still covering my hands. And the Moon was up and I, at some point I looked down and saw that my hands were sparkling in the moonlight. And I realised it was, it was the dust, the Moon dust on my hands. And I looked up and I thought - this dirt, it came from there! Somebody actually went up there, to that Moon, and brought back this dirt that is now sparkling on my hands.
Ever since humankind has gazed up at sky, it has wondered what the Moon is made of. But in 1969, on the Apollo 11 mission, the most ambitious scientific endeavour in history, humankind could finally feel it, first hand.
The surface appears to be very, very fine grained as you get close to it. It’s almost like a powder.
Apollo 11 landed right here, which is on the Sea of Tranquillity, and it was a very exciting time for many people.
I was really thrilled to tears to see this happening. It was like 45 years ago but it’s almost like it was yesterday.
Everybody had worked for so long on their dream of humans to the Moon, and we had two humans who had been to the Moon, three that went there as part of the crew.
That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for Mankind.
Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin not only set foot on the Moon, they gathered our first rock and dust samples from the lunar surface.
This is a sample of Apollo 11, 1084. This was a contingency sample that Neil Armstrong chucked into a, a box right away quick, the rock box, in case something had happened at least we had something to take back.
And they did make it back, to the applause of the entire world.
It was just an absolute mad house here at the Johnson Space Centre. The samples were handled as if they were dangerous. You know they were, might have contained pathogens for humanity. Well after we found out they did not, then the conditions were relaxed. It was exciting times because every analysis that we got on the Apollo samples was new, because we never had that before.
Our understanding of the Moon just exploded. Here were basalts, fragments of lava, that were almost 4 billion years old and they were as fresh as if you’d collected them in Hawaii the day before. That just doesn’t happen on Earth. It turned out to be so fascinating, so much more complex than we had expected.
Between 1969 and 1972, six successful manned landings brought back 380 kilogrammes of lunar rock samples. Samples we are still studying today.
Ok Bob, I didn’t think I could do it but I’ve got a sample of the inclusion.
They’ve been a continual treasure trove really of scientific information and knowledge that we’re still working through 40 years later.
The Earth’s Moon is a bit of an attic. Its got dusty old relics from the formation of the solar system hiding in it that enable us to go back and look at, at what the history of our Solar System is like.
Three, two, one, ignition.
In the 40 years after Apollo, though we’ve sent a series of increasingly sophisticated unmanned orbiters to the Moon, we still have so much of the lunar surface to discover, and its history left to understand.
When you put Apollo in perspective; we’ve had six landing sites for a maximum of three days each. So the analogy is trying to explore the continent of Africa by parachuting in six teams and then stop. And in no way could you, you know, could you possibly claim that you’d explored the continent of Africa if that’s the only interaction you’d had with it. So really there’s an enormous amount of the Moon still waiting to be explored.
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