Monday, August 3, 2009

What's Up? 40 Years After the "Giant Leap for Mankind"

Welcome back to What's Up?

It was last month, on July 20, 40 years ago, that Apollo 11 landed on the Moon. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to set foot on another world.

The Apollo program was the greatest burst of technological development since human civilization began, yet it took only five percent of the yearly federal budget to accomplish this great feat. NASA's current budget stands at less than 17 billion dollars, half of a percent of the entire federal budget.

Other than beating the Soviets to the moon, the Apollo program produced much more than pretty pictures and a few hundred kilograms of moon rocks.

At its peak, the Apollo program employed 400,000 workers and used 20,000 businesses and universities. The Apollo program provided a great economic boost for the United States and provided many technological benefits. Spin-offs from Apollo include improved kidney dialysis (basically a blood filter), fire resistant materials used in firefighters' suits, hazardous gas detectors, insulation used in oil pipelines, and the first flight guidance system, just to name a few.

The Moon landings inspired the next generation of scientists and engineers who have allowed for the many scientific discoveries and technological innovations made in the last few decades.

About 380 kilograms (840 pounds) of soil and rocks were returned from the Moon. What were they made of and what could that possibly tell us about the Moon?

While there was no mozzarella or cheddar, there were many similarities to Earth's composition. The amount of oxygen and iron in the rocks strongly supports the idea that the moon was formed when the Earth was hit with an object the size of Mars. The impact splashed material into orbit around the Earth. The material eventually cooled and clumped together to form the Moon.

The idea of going to the Moon has been around for hundreds of years, if not thousands, but actual plans to visit the moon weren't finalized until the early 1960s. John F. Kennedy set a goal of reaching the Moon by the end of the decade. Meeting this goal was one of the greatest challenges that a single nation has ever faced.

The rocket required for the mission, the Saturn V, was not even finished on paper yet, let alone a working model. The parts for the computers that were needed to guide the astronauts to the Moon were not even invented yet, the engineers just had to hope they would be invented in the next few years. The United States had barely even placed an astronaut into space before Kennedy backed Apollo in 1961.

Apollo spurred many great innovations in technology, inspired millions around the world, and did some great science along the way. Who knows what the next generation of Moon landings and maybe even Mars landings will bring.

Looking up at the Moon this month we will remember when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the Moon 40 years ago.

While we're looking up at the Moon, it will be full on August 5 and then become a New Moon by August 20.

The Perseid meteor shower, the best meteor shower of the year with up to 100 meteors visible per hour, will be best seen on the night of August 11 and the very early morning of August 12.

Jupiter will be fairly low in the South-East during most of the month after sunset. It will appear brighter to the naked-eye and larger through a telescope than it has been since October 1999.

The Athena Community Astronomy Club will continue to be on the Summerside boardwalk every clear Wednesday evening showing anyone interested views through telescopes and answering any questions that may be asked.

To finish off the month is the astronomy club's monthly meeting on the last Sunday of the month, August 30, at the Wilmot Community Center.

Until next month, just look up!

Hey Kids...
On July 15 Jupiter got smacked with a large asteroid or comet. No one actually saw it before or when it hit. What astronomers did see was a big darkened patch in Jupiter's clouds after it hit. Something like this happened only fifteen years ago when a comet came in, broke up into little pieces, and one after another, smashed into Jupiter. If one heads our way hopefully we will have a bit of warning so we can get rid of it, scientists will just have to be sure to keep their eye on the "ball!"

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