Science

Apollo 11 turns 50: How commercial space exploration is becoming a reality

This March 30, 1969 photo made available by NASA shows the crew of the Apollo 11, from left, Neil Armstrong, commander; Michael Collins, module pilot; Edwin E.

This March 30, 1969 photo made available by NASA shows the crew of the Apollo 11, from left, Neil Armstrong, commander; Michael Collins, module pilot; Edwin E. "Buzz" Aldrin, lunar module pilot. Apollo 11 was the first manned mission to the surface of the moon. (NASA via AP)  

July 20 marks 50 years of the Apollo 11 lunar mission that put the first man on the moon. We take a look at commercial space exploration

This week, US agency National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is in a celebratory mood. July 20 marks the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, the first-ever mission that took astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins to the moon, in a journey that continues to enchant not just the world’s scientific community, but also popular culture.

This televised journey drew a global audience of 600 million people, and gave us many oft-repeated (and sometimes abused and memed) Armstrong quotes like ‘The Eagle has landed’ and ‘One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.’

Even though Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) had to call off its Chandrayaan 2 lunar mission this week due to a technical snag, the country is already known as a leader in moon exploration with the 2008 Chandrayaan 1 probe that was made using indigenous technology.

Apollo 11 was a breakthrough in more ways than one. Not only did it transport human beings to another planetary body, but also created a competitive era among nations to send their representatives to space.

Once dominated by the US and the former USSR, today’s ‘space race’ has India, China, South Korea and West Asian countries in the reckoning with their own exploration programmes.

In the new millennium, another dimension has popped up: commercial space tourism.

Tourists aboard

Ever since American businessman Dennis Tito strapped himself up for a flight that was literally ‘out of this world’ on April 28, 2001, several other, albeit extremely wealthy aspirants, have set their sights on becoming tourists in space.

Apollo 11 turns 50: How commercial space exploration is becoming a reality

Tito, a multi-millionaire engineer and technology services provider, paid $20 million for the privilege of leaving the earth behind with the help of the Russian Federal Space Agency to spend a week aboard the International Space Station (ISS), fending off criticism by NASA that he wasn’t adequately prepared.

Though there have been only six more people who have been to outer space after Tito (all of them aboard a Soyuz craft to the ISS), the idea of commercial space tourism seems to have taken off in earnest, if not in the interest of science, then at least for bragging rights to have ‘gone where no one has gone before’.

This would explain why so many companies are staking their reputation and money on offering package tours to outer space.

From British tycoon Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, space travel has clearly caught the fancy of some big names on this planet.

And as PayPal co-founder and the head honcho of SpaceX, Elon Musk proved in February last year, the final frontier is not meant for human tourists alone... you can even send an electric car for a ride around the galaxy.

Launched with a help of a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket, Musk’s Tesla Roadster convertible, ‘driven’ by a spacesuit-clad dummy called Starman, will now cruise the solar system for millions of years (just don’t call it space debris yet).

Up in the air

Leisure trips to outer space are already on the blueprints of the Aurora Station, a private space station in low earth orbit that was recently announced by the California startup Orion Span.

Apollo 11 turns 50: How commercial space exploration is becoming a reality

Touted on its website as the ‘world’s first luxury space hotel... equipped with a remarkable astronaut experience that can be had nowhere else in the known universe’, the Aurora Station is due to start construction in 2021.

For a fee of $9.5 million per person, guests will be trained on earth and while in space, to stay for 12 days at the Aurora. And yes, they are offering condominiums too.

There are several players like Blue Origin and Space Adventures that have short-duration missions, details of which are still up in the air as technologies evolve.

Reasons to remember

But there’s a lot you can do on terra firma, should you wish to celebrate mankind’s first introduction to the moon.

At the very spot where the Apollo 11 mission took shape, in Cape Canaveral, Florida, the Kennedy Space Centre has been celebrating the run-up to the anniversary with a host of commemorative events, including, a pop concert by Duran Duran.

Chariots of Apollo (Clockwise from bottom left) Astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin; footprint of astronaut on the moon with earth above the horizon

Chariots of Apollo (Clockwise from bottom left) Astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin; footprint of astronaut on the moon with earth above the horizon  

Today, auction house Christie’s will be putting nearly 200 rare artefacts related to NASA missions of the 1960s and 70s on salein an event called One Giant Leap: Celebrating Space Exploration 50 Years after Apollo 11. Among the highlights is the Apollo 11 Lunar Module Timeline Book (estimate: $7-9 million), which was used by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to navigate the lunar module Eagle onto the surface of the moon in July 1969.

The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum is hosting the Apollo 50 Festival in Washington DC from July 18 to 20, culminating with The Eagle Has Landed, a recreation of the exact time when the first steps were actually made on the moon.

Believe it or not!

    In the UK, The National Forest Adventure Farm in Burton-Upon-Trent has created a maze across a 10-acre cornfield, to showcase the iconic photo of Buzz Aldrin on the lunar surface, captured by Apollo 11 Mission Commander Armstrong.

    If you’d rather be an armchair astronaut, you could treat yourself to an anniversary boxed set of the biopic First Man DVD (starring Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong) that is being released with a faux space suit cloth cover.

    Why you should pay for quality journalism - Click to know more

    Related Topics
    Recommended for you
    This article is closed for comments.
    Please Email the Editor

    Printable version | Feb 20, 2020 2:08:10 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/science/apollo-11-turns-50-how-commercial-space-exploration-is-becoming-a-reality/article28620170.ece

    Next Story