Apollo 11 anniversary: ​​What has changed in space exploration since arriving on the moon? | Sciences

One question that frequently appears in denial forums is: Why, more than half a century later, after the alleged landing of Armstrong and Aldrin, has this feat not been repeated?

The question ignores the fact that he turned around. Five more times (and once, on the thirteenth day, which failed). Next December will be half a century since the last expedition. Since then, it is true that no one has ever set foot on the Moon, but the advances in space exploration have been so many and so amazing that they tend to distort the perspective of how technology was at the time.

In July 1969, the Moon was the only celestial body whose surface was determined in detail. There were only about two dozen low-resolution black and white photographs of Mars, transmitted by an automated probe four years ago. In fact, a few days after the first landing on the Moon, two more landers arrived on the Red Planet, which returned a few dozen better-quality images, but also didn’t show any of the amazing occurrences, such as volcanoes, valleys, or droughts. Rivers that seem familiar to us today.

Nothing was known about the geography of Venus and Mercury, and much less about the outer planets. From Jupiter, for example, dozens of satellites were known, and simple bright spots in great telescopes; Today there are more than eighty, most of which have been extensively explored. We also have spherical planes for all the planets, some comets, and many asteroids.

Astronomy at that time was beginning to undergo a revolution. Only five years ago, the first and most distant quasar were identified, but its nature remained a mystery. A probe rocket on a routine flight also detected X-ray emissions in the constellation Cygnus that indicate the presence of an impossible object half jokingly called a “black hole”.

More recently, there was another strange case in the Cosmic Zoo: the remnants of a star orbiting once per second, emitting bursts of radiation like lighthouse rays. It would be called a “pulsar” and a few years later it would receive the Nobel Prize not for its discoverer, Jocelyn Bell, but for his thesis advisor.

No one doubts the inflationary expansion of the universe, nor the existence of dark matter or dark energy. The largest telescope was the venerable Hill on Mount Palomar, which caused a sensation by distributing the first images of galaxies and nebulae…in color! Images are routinely sent by telescopes such as Hubble or brand new James Webb They seemed like science fiction to astronomers who followed the first trip to the moon.

One of the images taken by James Webb and presented by NASA on July 12. It shows the edge of a nearby star-forming region called NGC 3324 in the Carina Nebula.NASA, European Space Agency, Canadian Space Agency and STScI (AP)

Armstrong’s first step on the moon was broadcast live around the world thanks to the fact that there were the first geostationary communications satellites. There were also weather satellites, but only local coverage; Meteosat will not fly until eight years later. Few satellites to aid in navigation and intended for military use. Free GPS was still very much in the future.

Many structures built at that time to support the lunar program have become obsolete. Houston’s famous control room has been weak for years. Today, restored to the last detail, it’s a museum piece for tourists to enjoy; As are the remaining three copies of Saturn 5, which has been nearly deserted outdoors for decades. It took a tremendous effort to restore it and clean up the accumulated rust.

Saturn V was used for the Apollo program in the 1960s and 1970s, and was also used to launch the Skylab space station.
Saturn V was used for the Apollo program in the 1960s and 1970s, and was also used to launch the Skylab space station.Container

Instead, other facilities continue to provide the service. The deep space antenna array, for example, tracks nearly all space probes of NASA and various space agencies at nearly unimaginable distances. The record is held by Voyager 2, which, after visiting Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, is now about 20 billion kilometers (about 36 light hours) away.

The Kennedy Center Launch Control and Assembly Building is still in use after servicing over a hundred Space Shuttle launches. Of the two platforms built for Saturn 5, one is the historic 39th from which Apollo 11, leased to Space X; Falcon rockets are launched from Elon Musk there. The other is still reserved for NASA for its new SLS lunar rocket, which may fly next August.

If he went to the moon fifty years ago, couldn’t he do now? Saturn 5, the only missile that has never suffered a serious failure? Mostly not. Not because his blueprints have disappeared (NASA still keeps them on file), but because technology has changed. The tools that were used to build it, the individual components, manufacturers of certain important parts, and the specialized workforce that made, say, the five gigantic first-stage engines, welding one by one, no longer existed. Hundreds of tubes that make up each nozzle. Today its successors are printed in 3D.

It would not make sense today to revive the capsules that took astronauts to the moon. Technology has advanced amazingly, especially with regard to materials science and, above all, to computing equipment. In this sense, it is significant that the great computers in Houston that calculated the paths can be compared to a modest laptop today. And a watch with the lunar module on board did not have a much larger capacity than a calculated wristwatch.

True, manned flights were limited to a low orbit. In abandoning its lunar program, the Soviet Union focused its efforts on the orbital labs with tremendous success. Salyut and Mir paved the way for what is now the International Space Station.

On the other hand, access to space has become widespread. In 1969, only six countries built their own satellite and only three (the Soviet Union, the United States, and France) had the real capacity to launch it. China, today a great power in this field, will not put it into orbit until 1970. Instead, there are now more than seventy national agencies from Sweden to Turkmenistan, as well as many private organizations dedicated to space exploration.

Both India and Israel sent landing probes to the Moon (to no avail, by all accounts); China and the UAE to Mars. Japan obtained samples from two asteroids. The European Union sent ships to explore a comet as well as to the frigid plains of Titan. And launches are no longer the preserve of the superpowers: A few days ago, NASA itself turned to a New Zealand company to launch a small device to the moon that would allow it to test the orbit where the future Gateway station will one day orbit. , which is an intermediate station for future manned flights to our satellite.

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