Apollo 11: Marking 60 years of man’s terrestrial romance with space

Man is inexplicably the most adventurous species amid the living things. Among men, there are men; few are die-hard audacious, few others are chickenhearted while the rest are in-between. President John F. Kennedy of the United States of America was one of the most progressive and visionary world leaders of the 20th century. Precisely, on May 25, 1961, President Kennedy set a monumental goal, the first in the history of mankind, to land man on the surface of the Earth’s lunar, the moon.

He addressed the US Congress with a clear message to the rest of the world: “I believe that this nation (USA) should commit itself to achieve the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space, and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”

After this statement, the goal was achieved eight years after with an astounding expenditure of $25.4 billion for landing a man on the moon and back to the Earth safely and heartily. The whole world was amazed, some felt it was a crazy idea or sheer madness, and some were indifferent while several others in Africa were oblivious to the historic event as they were sternly confronted with challenges of the post-independent era. In Nigeria, despite a bloody civil war at the period, there was massive awareness of the Apollo 11 mission in the north, which propelled the legendry Hausa singer, Alhaji Mamman Shata of blessed memory to sing “Kumbo Apollo 11”.

Another famous singer of blessed memory Maman Gawo of Niger Republic equally sang the Apollo 11 in the Hausa language. While Shata explicitly commended the giant effort of the USA for the mission, describing the speed of Apollo 11 as fast as that of lightening (sauri kamar warkiya), Gawo warned America to “let the sleeping dog lie to avoid its madness (catastrophe)” (kar kuje ku nemo wata rigima). Those two songs in the Hausa language were so eloquent and educative to some of us even as teenagers making the Apollo 11 mission the most distinctly understood subject at the time. Thanks to those eminent and brilliant Hausa singers – Shata and Gawo of Nigeria and Niger republics.

From the day, President Kennedy promised the world of American plan on a planetary mission to the moon, Americans worked assiduously to realise the dream of their coveted president. President Kennedy made the famous pledge after his inspiration by Alan Shepard’s space mission in that same year 1961.

Shepard became the first American in space on May 5, 1961, when he went aloft in the Freedom 7 capsule for a 15-minute sub-orbital flight. The Shepard mission convinced Kennedy that America could move to the next level ahead of other contending countries in space mission especially Russia, and thus, promised the world what then seemed to be “mission impossible”. Thus, the primary objective of Apollo 11 was to complete a national goal set by President John F. Kennedy, perform a crewed lunar landing, and return to Earth.

Additional objectives to the mission included scientific exploration of the lunar module crew; deployment of a television camera to transmit signals to the Earth; and deployment of a solar wind composition experiment and seismic experiment package. On July 16, the Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island, Florida speedily launched Apollo 11. It was the fifth crewed mission of NASA’s Apollo programme at the time of the launch.

The spacecraft (Apollo 11) traveled a distance of 384,000 kilometers in 76 hours before it entered into a lunar orbit on July 19. The next day, July 20, at 1:46 p.m. the lunar module Eagle, manned by Armstrong and Aldrin, touched down in the Sea of Tranquility in Site 2. This was 7 km away from the predicted touchdown point and occurred almost one-and-a-half minutes earlier than the scheduled time. After the landing, it took four hours when Armstrong emerged from the Eagle and deployed the TV camera for the transmission of the event to Earth.

On that date, July 20, there was massive anxiety of whether the mission would be successful or not, what could be the repercussion (if any) or benefits to mankind from an “extra length” in man’s effort at planetary expedition? An estimated 650 million people across 73 countries were glued to their fuzzy television sets watching Armstrong’s televised image and heard his voice announced: “The Eagle has landed”. Minutes later, he was seen gently leaping, announcing the event as he took each step”…one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind”.

Armstrong was the first person to set his feet on the moon’s surface with footprints. The first footprints put on the moon will probably remain for a long time, perhaps, almost as long as the moon lasts in the planetary world. This is because the Lunar environment is not similar to our environment on Earth, there is no erosion by wind or water on the moon because it has no atmosphere and all the water on the surface is frozen as ice and thus, any mark made on the moon surface is likely to remain forever.

The major events of July20 and 21, 1969, when three American men with their craft were on the moon lasted more than two-and-a-half hours. Armstrong stepped onto the moon, followed by Aldrin about 20 minutes later; the camera was then positioned on a tripod and half an hour later, President Nixon spoke by telephone link with the astronauts. After Aldrin had spent one hour, 33 minutes on the surface, he re-entered the Lunar Module, followed 41 minutes later by Armstrong. Armstrong and Aldrin spent a total of 21 hours, 36 minutes on the moon’s surface and collected 21.5 kg of lunar material to bring back to the Earth. They hoisted the American flag, photographed and collected soil samples among other historical events. While these activities were going on the command pilot, Michael Collins, flew the command module Columbia alone in lunar orbit.

The climax of Apollo II mission was the telephone conversion with President Nixon who became the next American President after the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963. That telephone conversation was “the most historic phone call ever made from the White House”.

Nixon: Hello, Neil and Buzz. I’m talking to you by telephone from the Oval Room at the White House. And this certainly has to be the most historic telephone call ever made. I just can’t tell you how proud we all are of what you’ve done.

For every American, this has to be the proudest day of our lives. And for people all over the world, I am sure they too join with Americans in recognizing what an immense feat this is. Because of what you have done, the heavens have become a part of man’s world. And as you talk to us from the Sea of Tranquility, it inspires us to redouble our efforts to bring peace and tranquility to Earth. For one priceless moment in the whole history of man, all the people on this Earth are truly one: one in their pride in what you have done, and one in our prayers that you will return safely to Earth.

Armstrong: Thank you, Mr. President. It’s a great honour and privilege for us to be here, representing not only the United States, but also men of peace of all nations, and with interest and curiosity, and men with a vision for the future. It’s an honor for us to be able to participate here today.
To be concluded next week