Kenmare ND - Upside Down Under

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Upside Down Under

By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News


50 years on...

Posted 7/16/19 (Tue)

In British society when somebody refers to something that happened in the past they say, “10 years on” or “50 years on,” instead of 10 years ago or 50 years ago.

As it turns out, Saturday happens to be 50 years on from an important date in U.S. history. Anybody want to take a guess?

It’s the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing. It’s when Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the moon and when he did, he said, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

The date was significant in another way because it was in the early ‘60s that President Kennedy challenge Americans to reach for the moon by the end of the decade.

It happened with five months to spare.

For those who may not remember, the Soviet Union put Sputnik into space on Oct. 4, 1957 which began the space race between the United States and Russia.

Just a month later on Nov. 3, 1957, the Russians sent Laika into space, a Russian street dog. The aim was to see how long a dog could live in space.

There are varied reports that she lived up to four days while others say she reached orbit and circled the Earth a couple of times and died 103 minutes later.

Laika was launched on the 40th anniversary of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and she was the first living thing in space.

Then, on April 12, 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space with the launch of Vostok 1 that orbited the Earth one time.

It looked like the Soviet Union was beating the United States in the space race until Feb. 20, 1962 when John Glenn became the first human to orbit the Earth more than once in his Friendship 7 mission.

After Glenn successfully returned to Earth, the pendulum began to swing and by 1965, the United States was pulling ahead of the Soviets, which has been going on since.

Keep in mind, the Russians were sending unmanned crafts into space in the early ‘60s, as was the United States, but often times  the Soviet crafts would crash into Mars or the Moon, while American satellites orbited Mars and even took crude photographs of the Red Planet.

Most of that made interesting segments on the nightly network news on TV, but July 20. 1969 is what really got people excited.

Those of us who followed the space race, knew the three astronauts that included Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, were headed to the Moon on their Apollo mission.

What we didn’t know is when or even if, the landing would happen. But it did and it was almost like watching an episode of Star Trek.

My friends and I were headed home from baseball practice. Yes, we had practice on a Sunday because we were losing games and we needed it.

Anyway, as we passed by the local cafe, the TV was showing the beginning of the Moon landing so we all piled into the Hazelton cafe to watch history unfolding.

To this day, it was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen on TV. The clarity of the TV signal wasn’t the best, the picture was in black and white and the signal from Apollo back to Earth wasn’t the best, but it was amazing watching Neil Armstrong bounce as he landed on the lunar surface.

So from May 25, 1961, not much more than a month after Gagarin went into space, when President Kennedy made his ambitious speech about sending an American to the Moon by the end of the decade, to July 20, 1969 when it became a reality, only seven years and two months had gone by.

Talk about ambitious. The advances NASA made during the 1960s was amazing and it was proved on that hut and muggy night in July 1969.

Since that time, we’ve sent unmanned missions to Mars, Jupiter and beyond. In fact, it was July 20, 1976 when Viking 1 successfully landed on the surface of Mars and began to explore its surroundings.

Numerous other missions have carried the Mars rover. Viking was stationary but the rover has explored much larger areas and sent back stunning photographs of the Martian surface.

Then, there was Voyager 1 and Voyager II, space probes that opened a treasure of information with its photographs from Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

Voyager is now traveling in deep space and still sends faint signals back to Earth. As for the Russians, well, they haven’t gone farther than the space station.