July 18, 2019 Monthly Meeting
July 18 @ 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm
A Time of Great Courage: The Apollo 11 Mission
Bernard W. Bopp Professor of Astronomy, Emeritus
When John F. Kennedy became President of the United States in January 1961, Americans believed that the United States was losing the Space Race with the Soviet Union, which had successfully launched the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, almost four years earlier. On April 12, 1961, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man to orbit the Earth, a feat the U.S. would not duplicate until nearly a year later. In September 1962, Kennedy boldly set a goal for the U.S. of landing a man on the moon “…in this decade.”
It was July 1969, and that goal was ready to be achieved. Three astronauts, Mike Collins, Buzz Aldrin, and Neil Armstrong were ready to pilot the Apollo 11 spacecraft to the moon and back. The mission had important scientific goals: it aimed to determine the age of the lunar rocks, to examine particles emitted by the Sun (the “solar wind”), to probe the moon’s internal structure, and to precisely determine the moon’s distance and orbit. This last experiment, the “Lunar Ranging Retroreflector (LR3)” was a project that Bernard Bopp had the privilege of working on as a 22-year-old graduate student.
But this first lunar landing was a high-risk mission, with many possible ways to fail. There was the very real possibility of crashing onto the lunar surface or damaging the lander so it could not return to the main spacecraft. In both scenarios, the two astronauts in the lander would be killed. Before the launch, astronaut Mike Collins estimated the odds of a completely successful mission as “…one chance in three.”
On July 20, 1969 at 17:44 Greenwich time, Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong undocked Eagle, the lunar landing craft from Columbia, the command module, to begin the descent to the lunar surface. It was a time of great courage.
Come listen to Bernie talk about his experience with the LR3 program and about the Apollo program in general on this evening two days before the 50th anniversary of the first manned lunar landing.
Meetings are held on the third Thursday of every month at the Science Center planetarium. We start promptly at 7:00, so come early to visit and get a seat.