Apollo 14 command module

The Apollo 14 command module Kitty Hawk is displayed at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

As a small child, I often looked at the moon during the night and wondered if man would ever visit it. Unknown to me at the time, both the Soviet Union and the United States were involved in a race to land man on the moon and return them to Earth. 

President John F. Kennedy first proposed landing a man on the moon and to return him safely in 1961. The main reason for the mission was the launch of Sputnik into Earth’s orbit in 1957 by the Soviet Union.    

The total cost of the Apollo mission was roughly $20 billion. Adjusting for inflation, it would cost about $120 billion in today’s dollars. The total number of people involved in the program was more than 400,000 people. The estimated total number of man hours was around 5 billion.  

When President Kennedy was assassinated, the lunar landing project became a national commitment. The entire population rallied around the project. The total cost, man hours, and time became secondary to fulfilling President Kennedy’s vision for the country.

The total trip itself for Apollo 11 lasted only 195 hours and 18 minutes. The crew of Apollo 11 only spent 2 hours and 34 minutes walking on the moon. During that time, they planted the American flag, took a call from President Nixon, set up several experiments, and gathered about 50 pounds of rocks from the moon. One of the instruments left on the moon was a reflector, so NASA scientists could make precise measurements of the distance of the moon from the Earth. With this, they learned that the moon is receding away from Earth about one inch per year.

Once the Apollo astronauts returned to Earth, they were required to stay in an isolation chamber for 21 days due to the possibility that an unknown organism that might contaminate the planet. 

In recent years, there has been speculation of sending another mission to the moon. Due the high cost, a divisive Congress, the lack of support from the American people, the new adventure seems highly unlikely. Now, I look at the moon 50-plus years later and wonder if we will ever return there.

The moon will be close to both Mercury and Mars on the evening of July 4. Look to the western horizon. On July 7, both planets will be together on that evening.

Jupiter will be the brightest object in the southeastern skies this month. On the evening of July 13, Jupiter and the moon will be close together.

Saturn will be at opposition this month; it will appear after midnight each night.  On the evening of July 16, the moon will be very close to the ringed planet. 

The next meeting of the Springfield Astronomical Society will be July 23. It will be at the Library Center at 4653 S. Campbell Ave., Springfield. Starting time is 7 p.m.  Our website is http://www.springfieldastronomy.org.

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