In 1903, the Wright Brothers successfully completed the first airplane flight, ushering in a new era of transportation. After thousands of years of being confined to the ground, humans would now be able to travel faster and farther than ever before. However, at the time no one had any idea just how far we would go. A mere 56 years later, man would set foot on the moon for the first time with NASA’s moon landing. An incredible amount of technological development had happened in a short amount of time, demonstrating how truly advanced the human race had become.
That moon landing occurred on July 20, 1969, 50 years ago. Just as many people alive today remember watching the event on television, there were many people watching that moon landing who could clearly recall the first time humans left the Earth. Now, as we celebrate half a century since humans walked on the moon, we not only look back on that day but look toward the future, and marvel at what else has occurred in the last 50 years.
In the years that passed between the first flight and the first moon landing, television was also invented, so unlike the Wright Brothers’ accomplishment, the Apollo 11 landing was seen by millions. Lisa Miele, SIMULIA Marketing Operations Director, was eight years old on the day man reached the moon.
“Even at that young age I could sense the excitement in my household on that day,” Miele recalls. “After all, my father was a research scientist with a passion for astronomy. A passion he shared with me and my younger brothers. By then my father had already built his first telescope and it was always a special night when he would set it out in our backyard on a clear night so we could view the happenings in the solar system. By eight years old I knew about the waning and waxing of the moon, how to find Jupiter and the North Star, knew how tell a planet from a star (‘Lisa, planets shine, stars twinkle’ my father would say), and could pick out the Big and Little Dipper, Orion, and Pleiades constellations.
“If all went well between mission control and the Apollo 11 crew, my father would witness what he had been waiting for since President John F. Kennedy (JFK) had proclaimed, ‘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…’ in September 1962. And, even though JFK would be assassinated 5 ½ years before the landing, his dream and challenge for the United States was about to become reality on July 20, 1969. On that night my father, my mother, me and one of my younger brothers were gathered around our black and white television anxiously waiting to witness history. I knew this had to be a formative moment because it was the rare occasion to find myself and my brother up way past our usual 7:30pm bedtime.
“With commentary by Walter Cronkite we listened to CBS’s live broadcast of the exchanges between mission control and Apollo 11’s landing on the moon. As I listened and watched waiting to see man take first steps on the moon I wondered what would happen? Would alien beings come out from a crater to greet the astronauts? As thoughts such as these crossed my mind, finally, what the world had waited for since 1962 – mankind takes his first step on another celestial body. As my younger brother struggled to keep his eyes open, mine were wide-eyed and hopeful. Hopeful for what you might ask? I’m not really sure only that I remember feeling hopeful. And, the eyes of the research scientist with a passion for astronomy? Welled with tears.”
Eric Leung, R&D SIMULIA Technical Customer Support Director, has clear memories of the day as well.
“I was a few years older than Lisa, my colleague at Simulia, when the moon landing took place. Back then I lived in a quiet and remote village in the New Territory area of Hong Kong where life was simple and everything was backward. Hong Kong was a British colony for 100 years until 1997, when it was returned back to mainland China.
“The most advanced TV sets at that time were expensive, had vacuum tubes inside, and pictures were shown mostly in black and white. Only the very rich can afford them at the time in my village and my family did not own one.
“The moon landing was a big event according to the radio broadcast that I heard at home. I would never forget that night when the event was broadcast on TV, my brother and I joined a crowd of folks, who had been gathered outside the window of a popular convenience store on Main street, watching the event play back on black and white TV in Hong Kong. The whole crowd cheered in excitement when they saw Armstrong climbed down the ladder of the moon landing module and made the first footprint of man on the surface of the moon. It was impressive and unbelievable if you are familiar with the famous Chinese legend of the moon goddess Chang’e and Yutu, her companion jade rabbit. And some folks were skeptical.
“In the mid-90’s I took my young children to the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC to see the replica of the landing module and the capsule that took the astronauts to the moon and back. I thought my children were a more fortunate generation than me to be able to see some hardware of the Apollo program instead of merely watching the news of the event on black and white TV. Of course I told them this exact same story of the great American achievement in space exploration!”
The SIMULIA community will be celebrating with the rest of the world when the 50th anniversary of the moon landing arrives. At the WaterFire Arts Center in Providence, Rhode Island, not far from the SIMULIA offices in Johnston, the Museum of the Moon features art related to the moon and the moon landing. This exhibition will be open all through July, with a visit from astronauts planned for the day of the anniversary itself.
“WaterFire is deeply honored to be pairing up with the NASA RI Space Grant Consortium to help us all recognize the epochal significance of the Apollo 11 landing, fifty years ago this weekend — it was the first time that a human being set foot on another world,” says Barnaby Evans, Executive Artistic Director of the WaterFire Arts Center. “This was an engineering accomplishment that was literally out of this world, but it also was a cultural waypoint of tremendous significance. Apollo was the beginning of our setting foot on the frontier of space. it was our entrance into our new world of technology where engineering, science and the digital realm now touches every one of our lives. And it was the single event that most created our new economy where STEAM learning is key. Dassault Systèmes is an international leader in all of this and we are pleased to be working with Dassault Systèmes in creating our special WaterFire lighting on July 20th.”
Events like these will be taking place all throughout the country as we commemorate what most would agree was one of the greatest moments in American history.
What, exactly, made it so great? Beyond the obvious technological achievement, there is a great deal of emotion associated with the moon landing. Humans have always been fascinated by the moon, the closest celestial body to Earth. Ancient cultures revered it as a god, and even once science explained its true origins, it remained mystical, the subject of many a poem or song. It controls the Earth’s tides, and, some believe, affects the temperaments of humans and animals. To actually touch the surface of this revered object was something close to magical.
Since 1969, much has occurred in technology and transportation. The Internet gives us access to any information, any time we want, and virtual and augmented reality present a whole new way of seeing. It’s worth noting that the first Model T was produced just five years after the first flight, further changing the face of transportation forever. Today, automobiles are faster than ever, and electric and autonomous vehicles are approaching the mainstream.
With all of the changes here on Earth, it is still space that captures humanity’s attention the most, and we continue to push its boundaries, exploring farther than ever before. In 2014, the European Space Agency landed an unmanned spacecraft on an asteroid for the first time – a feat that likely could not have been accomplished without the simulation technology available today. Simulation has become a huge part of space explorations, with spacecraft landings taking place in the virtual world before they embark in the physical one.
For the last 50 years, humanity has wondered if and when we would return to the moon – and it’s more a matter of when than if. Now, we don’t just talk about visiting the moon, we talk about actually building habitation there. The ESA has proposed building a “Moon Village” – not a replacement for life on Earth, but a permanent base for research and temporary living. Technology such as simulation and 3D printing will be integral in a project like this one.
Although governmental agencies are still working towards a return to the moon, private citizens are more likely to be the ones to get there first – a big change from the 1960s, when space travel was a government endeavor. Now, companies like Blue Origin and SpaceX are competing to take people back to the moon, which is a telling sign of the overall commercialization of our society. Regardless of who accomplishes it first, however, a return to the moon seems inevitable – and not just one return, but many trips and even possible residence. Exciting recent news from NASA suggests gender equality is now also expected to reach the lunar landings in the near future with the first moon-bound female astronauts set to arrive by 2024. Even if moon travel becomes commonplace in the future, however, the first humans to set foot on the moon will always be remembered as pioneers, and the original moon landing will always be celebrated as one of the greatest achievements in human history.