Apollo 40 years on: how the moon missions changed the world for ever

Photographs from the Apollo missions reshaped how we see the Earth and ourselves, while the ingenuity that put men on the moon gave birth to technologies that we all use today


Christopher Riley

On 19 December 1972, a final sonic boom above the south Pacific signalled the end of the Apollo programme, as a tiny space capsule burst back through the blue sky. On board were the last three astronauts to visit the moon on Apollo 17. Riding home with them was the precious negative of a photograph that would go on to become the most reproduced image in human history.

Frame number 22725 in magazine NN was a single shot of the whole Earth – later branded “the Blue Marble”. Snapped 12 days earlier by astronaut-geologist Harrison Schmitt as the spacecraft accelerated away from the Earth, the picture was immediately captivating.

Journeying southwards, towards the moon, Schmitt had seen his home planet upside down, with the continent of Antarctica sprawling over the top. Below it the entire African land mass arced downwards towards the cradle of civilisation in the Middle East, with the edge of southern Europe right at the bottom. On a rare, relatively cloudless day, so many human histories, causes and stories were on show in one view.

Subsequently, this single image was embraced by everyone from NGOs working in the developing world to the environmental movements seeking to protect our planet. For 40 years it has been used to change minds, behaviours and political policies.

The 'blue marble' photo of the Earth taken from Apollo 17. Photograph: Harrison Schmitt/Nasa

The ‘blue marble’ photo of the Earth taken from Apollo 17. Photograph: Harrison Schmitt/Nasa

Just four years separated Blue Marble from another profound Apollo picture – Earthrise, captured by Bill Anders on Christmas Eve 1968. Anders’s Apollo 8 portrait of our vibrant-blue planet, juxtaposed against the barren, brown-grey horizon of the moon, drew attention to Earth’s apparent fragility.

Such images led one commentator to conclude that “on the way to the moon we’d discovered the Earth”. They prompted many into thinking differently about our home planet. One such person was Stewart Brand, who self-published his ecologically themed Whole Earth Catalogue the same year, with a colour image of the entire Earth seen from space on the cover.

Brand’s vision was for his new quarterly magazine to create a “self-sustaining, critical information service”, and he soon nurtured it into a forum for the exchange of ideas suggested by the readers themselves. The Whole Earth Catalogue ran into the mid-80s, when Brand’s concept for a “self-sustaining, critical information service” would find a new platform in Usenet newsgroups on the internet, and eventually on the world wide web.

American poet Archibald MacLeish, also influenced by these visions of the whole Earth from space, penned an essay in the New York Times, as Apollo 8 was heading home in December 1968, pointing out the eternal loveliness of such pictures of Earth from space. For MacLeish these images suddenly revealed us all as “brothers who know now they are truly brothers… riders on the Earth together”.

Bill Anders’s 1968 Earthrise image also captured the attention of peace activist John McConnell, who printed it on flags and handed them out in Central Park, New York, the following summer as Apollo 11 became the first mission to land on the moon. His actions would later lead to the founding of Earth Day – an annual celebration of awareness and appreciation of Earth’s natural environment that is still held today in more than 175 countries. Shortly afterwards Friends of the Earth was formed by David Brower and other campaigners who felt that if there was one thing the Earth needed it was friends. ………………….
Read more: http://www.guardian.co.uk

Apollo 17 Launch

apollo17The huge, 363-feet tall Apollo 17 (Spacecraft 114/Lunar Module 12/Saturn 512) space vehicle is launched from Pad A., Launch Complex 39, Kennedy Space Center (KSC), Florida, at 12:33 a.m. (EST), Dec. 7, 1972.

Apollo 17, the final lunar landing mission in NASA’s Apollo program, was the first nighttime liftoff of the Saturn V launch vehicle. Aboard the Apollo 17 spacecraft were astronaut Eugene A. Cernan, commander; astronaut Ronald E. Evans, command module pilot; and scientist-astronaut Harrison H. Schmitt, lunar module pilot. Flame from the five F-1 engines of the Apollo/Saturn first (S-1C) stage illuminates the nighttime scene. A two-hour and 40-minute hold delayed the Apollo 17 launching.

What is Beyond Apollo?

By David S. F. Portree – wired.com

Periodically I take a moment to explain what Beyond Apollo is and isn’t. Beyond Apollo is a blog devoted to space history. It’s unique in that it explores space history by looking at missions and programs that did not happen. I defend this approach by pointing out that the vast majority of space plans that have been proposed never left the drawing board.

I deny, however, that Beyond Apollo is depressing, for it contains many technical and political lessons which, in the proper hands, could help us to build our future off the Earth. That’s fundamentally optimistic. It does demand, however, that one approach the history thoughtfully and with an open mind. These posts are not a commentary on the present, nor are they cries of anguish over lost opportunities. In fact, they demonstrate that we have come a long way in a short time and that engineers and scientists have in the past 60 years prepared for us a broad palette of possibilities for future space exploration.

Beyond Apollo has several emerging themes. These will expand and be joined by new themes as I add new posts. As might be expected, these reflect my personal research interests. Here are some of those themes and a few posts that reflect them. Please consider this post to be a portal to some of the best Beyond Apollo has to offer.

Doing the necessary spadework for successful space missions

Blue Moon Special: Lunar Oasis (1989)  http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/08/lunar-oasis-1989/

Project FIRE Redux: Interplanetary Reentry Tests (1966)  http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/07/interplanetary-reentry-tests-1966/

Mars 1984 Rover-Orbiter-Penetrator Mission (1977)  http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/07/mars-1984-rover-mission-1977/

Lunar Base or Space Station? (1983)  http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/06/lunar-base-or-space-station-1983/

Evolution vs. Revolution: The 1970s Battle for NASA’s Future (1978) http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/06/evolution-vs-revolution-the-1970s-battle-for-nasas-future-1978/

Space accidents & space rescue

Skylab Rescue Plan (1972)  http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/07/skylab-rescue-plan-1972/

The Eagle Has Crashed (1966)  http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/05/the-eagle-has-crashed-1966/

Great Balls of Fire: Apollo Rocket Explosions (1965)  http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/03/great-balls-of-fire-apollo-rocket-explosions-1965/

RAND’s Apollo Back-up Plan (1965)  http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/03/rands-apollo-back-up-plan-1965/

Alternate Apollo 13 (1970)  http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/07/alternate-apollo-13-1970/

MIT Saves the World: Project Icarus (1967)  http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/03/mit-saves-the-world-project-icarus-1967/

Sample return

The God of Gainful Employment: Project Hyreus (1993)  http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/09/project-hyreus-1993/

Antaeus Orbiting Quarantine Facility (1978)  http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/07/the-antaeus-orbiting-quarantine-facility-1978/

Capturing a Comet: Giotto II (1985)  http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/06/capturing-a-comet-giotto-ii-1985/

Squeezing our space investments for everything they are worth

NASA Marshall’s Skylab Reuse Study (1977)  http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/07/nasa-marshalls-skylab-reuse-study-1977/

NASA Tries to PEP Up Shuttle-Spacelab (1981)  http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/08/power-extension-package-for-shuttle-1981/

2012 Venus Transit Special #2: Piloted Single-Launch Venus Flyby (1967)  http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/06/2012-venus-transit-special-2-humans-in-venus-orbit-1967/

Before the Fire: Saturn-Apollo Applications (1966)  http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/08/before-the-fire/

Mercury Space Observatory (1964)  http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/06/mercury-space-observatory-1964/

Shuttle With Aft Cargo Carrier (1982)  http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/05/shuttle-with-aft-cargo-carrier-1982/

Piloted flyby missions

After EMPIRE: Using Apollo Hardware to Explore Venus and Mars (1965)  http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/03/apollotovenusandmars/

S-IIB Interplanetary Injection Stage for Piloted Mars-Venus Flybys (1968)  (http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/08/s-iib-interplanetary-injection-stage-1968/

Planetary Billiards: Triple-Planet Manned Mars-Venus Flybys (1967)  http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/03/planetary-billiards-triple-planet-manned-marsvenus-flybys-1967/

International space cooperation

Landing Soyuz Lifeboats in Australia (1992)   http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/04/landing-soyuz-lifeboats-in-australia-1992/

Who Controls the Moon Controls the Earth (1958)  http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/03/who-controls-the-moon-controls-the-earth-1958/

Skylab-Salyut Space Laboratory (1972)  http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/03/skylab-salyut-space-laboratory-1972/

1977 Apollo-Soyuz Docking Mission Repeat (1974)  http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/08/1977-apollo-soyuz-docking-mission-repeat-1974/

Human-robot partnership

Robot Rendezvous at Hadley Rille (1968)  http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/04/humans-and-robots-meet-at-hadley-rille-1968/

2012 Venus Transit Special #3: Robot Probes for Piloted Venus Flybys (1967)  http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/06/2012-venus-transit-special-3-robot-probes-for-piloted-venus-flybys-1967/

Ernst’s Ions Week Continues: Lunar Ion Freighter (1959)  http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/04/lunar-ion-freighter-1959/

Remembering Apollo 1

Image credit: NASA

On January 27, 1967, Apollo 1’s crew–Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, Edward H. White II and Roger B. Chaffee–was killed when a fire erupted in their capsule during testing. Apollo 1 was originally designated AS-204 but following the fire, the astronauts’ widows requested that the mission be remembered as Apollo 1 and following missions would be numbered subsequent to the flight that never made it into space.


Apollo 11 descends to the Google Moon

This is pretty neat: an Apollo enthusiast who goes by the handle GoneToPlaid has created a video comparing the Apollo 11 footage of its descent to the Moon with images from Google Moon:


That’s very cool. You can see the same features in the Apollo 11 film footage and in the newer view from Google Moon, which uses images from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter as well as Japan’s Kaguya mission. The lighting was different so sometimes it makes features hard to spot in both — direct sunlight changes shadows, and also creates a spotlight effect which can hide craters and such — but you can see how well everything lines up. GoneToPlaid provides a link to the KMZ files you can use for Google Moon to check this out for yourself as well.

This won’t convince people who think NASA faked the landings, of course, nor do I really care. What I do care about is how this brings home what the astronauts did all those decades ago. Going to the Moon washard; it’s another world, with all the dangers and unknowns and difficult terrains that made it necessary to explore it before we went, and to do so once again in preparation for going back. Hopefully sometime soon.

NASA Spacecraft Images Offer Sharper Views Of Apollo Landing Sites

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) captured the sharpest images ever taken from space of the Apollo 12, 14 and 17 landing sites. Images show the twists and turns of the paths made when the astronauts explored the lunar surface.

At the Apollo 17 site, the tracks laid down by the lunar rover are clearly visible, along with the last foot trails left on the moon. The images also show where the astronauts placed some of the scientific instruments that provided the first insight into the moon’s environment and interior.

“We can retrace the astronauts’ steps with greater clarity to see where they took lunar samples,” said Noah Petro, a lunar geologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., who is a member of the LRO project science team.

All three images show distinct trails left in the moon’s thin soil when the astronauts exited the lunar modules and explored on foot. In the Apollo 17 image, the foot trails, including the last path made on the moon by humans, are easily distinguished from the dual tracks left by the lunar rover, which remains parked east of the lander…… Continue reading NASA Spacecraft Images Offer Sharper Views Of Apollo Landing Sites