By Dr. Christopher Boxe
Saturday, July 20th, 2019 marks the 50th Anniversary of the first humans (Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin) landing on the moon via NASA’s Apollo 11 lunar mission. The landing site, the “Sea of Tranquility” (Mare Tranquilliatatis), was chosen via Range 8, which took over 7,000 high-resolution images of the moon before impacting its surface on February 20th, 1965. The NASA Apollo Program sent nine missions to the moon during the 1960s and ‘70s, where six of them landed astronauts on the moon’s surface. During this timeframe, 12 men have landed on the moon. This was possible by way of two US pilot-astronauts who flew a Lunar Module (lander spacecraft) on each of the six NASA missions. This incredible feat denotes the only times that humans have physically visited another planet.
The Apollo lunar flights ceased on December 7th, 1972 (with Gene Cernan and Jack Schmitt on Apollo 17), and shortly thereafter, the Apollo Program was terminated. Explorer 49, launched on June 10th, 1973, became the last US-sponsored lunar program until the launch of the Clementine spacecraft in 1994. After Clementine, US-sponsored missions to the moon continue to provide greater understanding of the moon’s services. The moon is still of great interest to NASA and scientists globally. This is indicative of the fact that “Apollo” unvaryingly is near the top of all search queries on NASA’s public website. The legacy of the Apollo lunar mission is longstanding, as scientists around the world have analyzed (and continue to do so) and written scientific papers on more than 500 moon samples attained from this mission.
NASA’s Apollo lunar missions have become a cultural standard globally. How many times have you heard someone query: “If they sent humans to the moon previously, why can’t they still do so?” The promise of American ingenuity and leadership in space has continually grown as NASA explores solar and extrasolar systems. The President’s Space Policy Directive-1 is currently being implemented to “lead an innovative and sustainable program of exploration with commercial and international partners to enable human expansion across the solar system.” NASA is on the precipice of commercializing low-earth orbit and plans to send astronaut crews on the moon in 2024. The US, via NASA, will lead a coalition of nations and industry:
- NASA’s ambitious Commercial Resupply enables American companies to resupply the International Space Station.
- NASA’s Commercial Crew Program will return spaceflight launches to US soil, providing safe, reliable and cost-effective access to low-earth orbit and the Space Station.
- NASA’s backbone for deep space exploration is the biggest rocket ever built, the Space Launch System (SLS), the Orion spacecraft and the Gateway lunar command module. With its partners, NASA will use the Gateway lunar command module for orbiting the moon as a staging point for missions that allow astronauts to explore more parts of the lunar surface than ever before.
“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Neil Armstrong’s words, upon landing on the moon, resonates indefinitely and within the broader context of humanity, was a priceless remnant that inspired generations to come. The NASA-sponsored missions since the 60’s undoubtedly made “NASA” a household name – all over the world – and correlated it with inspiration.
I, along with Dr. Mohammed Riyad, William Lee and Dr. Dereck Skeete share the universal inspiration of NASA while growing up. I’m originally from Jamaica and a chemist and environmental scientist and Co-Principal Investigator of Medgar Evers College’s NASA GEO Tech Academy Program. Dr. Riyad, originally from Bangladesh, is a medical doctor, mathematician and NASA research consultant. William Lee, originally from South Korea, is a data scientist and NASA research consultant and Dr. Dereck Skeete, originally from Trinidad is an environmental scientist and NASA research consultant.
Supported by Education Opportunities in NASA STEM (EONS), these scientists train Brooklyn-based middle and high school students and teachers to utilize NASA multidimensional modeling assets (e.g., Caltech/JPL planetary models, NASA satellite and in situ data). we also engaged parents in the workshops and supported this year’s Imagine Mars Event at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Carrying on the heritage of NASA’s Lunar Program, as we work to continue to inspire Medgar Evers College and the broader community through NASA STEM assets.