Flagstaff Goes To The Moon : Discovery News

My Take: Kevin Schindler, Outreach Manager at Lowell, shares the history of Lowell's contribution toward NASA's greatest achievement.

The scoop: Discovery Space partner, the world famous Lowell Observatory, was deeply involved in preparations for the historic Apollo 11 mission 40 years ago. Kevin Schindler, Outreach Manager at Lowell, shares the history of Lowell's contribution toward NASA's greatest achievement. He and a colleague has created an exhibition at the Observatory called "Flagstaff Goes to the Moon," on display through July 31.

By the 1950s, the United States and Soviet Union were firmly established as opponents in a conflict known as the Cold War. Punctuated by nuclear arms buildups, elaborate spy rings, and extensive propaganda, the competition took a new turn on October 4, 1957 when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite to orbit Earth. This event began the Space Race, a new component of the Cold War.

Not Easy, Hard

After several years of developing rockets and initiating manned space flights, the ante for the U.S. and U.S.S.R. was upped to an outrageous level, that of sending humans to the moon.

In a 1962 speech, president John F. Kennedy galvanized our nation to pursue this goal, proclaiming: "We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too."

As it turns out, Kennedy was right on with these words, as more than 400,000 individuals combined efforts in what many consider the defining moment of the 20th century, if not all of human history.

The Flagstaff Connection

NASA's successful moon landings could not have been accomplished without the creativeness, dedication, and hard work of this immense pool of talented people, many in the vicinity of Flagstaff, Arizona.

In fact, from the early stages of the American manned spaceflight program in the early 1960s through the completion of the Apollo manned missions to the moon in the early 1970s, Flagstaff was a key location for preparing astronauts, inventing and testing equipment and instruments, and mapping the moon; all key ingredients in meeting Kennedy's goal.

Sending men to the moon was clearly a radical undertaking requiring countless hours of preparation. Just like you would prepare for an athletic event, a Ph.D. dissertation, or obtaining a pilot's license, the astronauts had to study the moon and practice carrying out each activity, so when they got to the moon, they would be fully prepared.

Much of this training took place in northern Arizona, at locations such as the Grand Canyon, Meteor Crater and Sunset Crater. As part of this training program, U.S. Geological Survey staff used explosives to create moon-like crater fields near both Sunset Crater and in Verde Valley. These fields allowed astronauts to test instruments and equipment, practice map reading, and carry our other activities.

Working On An Alien World

The moon is much smaller than Earth and thus has only about one-sixth the gravity of our home planet. This means if you weighed 150 pounds on Earth, you would only weigh 25 pounds on the moon. Because of this, activities such as walking, rock sample collection, setting up equipment, etc., would be much different on the moon. Instruments had to be created that take into account this difference in gravity, so scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey in Flagstaff designed, built, and tested new devices specifically designed for the moon's unique conditions.

When you travel to another state or country, you take a map so you can find your way around. The same goes for traveling to a foreign world, so scientists in Flagstaff teamed with artists to create accurate maps that astronauts could use while on the moon. Workers at Lowell Observatory and the US Geological Survey especially helped create these cartographic representations, including dozens of maps and even a globe.

The astronaut training, instrument testing, and moon mapping carried out in Flagstaff were significant in meeting Kennedy's wildly ambitious goal of successfully traveling to the moon. The 40th anniversary of the first moon landing is an ideal time to remember these important contributions.

The views expressed are the author's alone and do not represent the official position of the Discovery Channel, NASA or Lowell.

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