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One small step: 40 years since the first Moon landing

To help students appreciate the significance of the Moon landing in 1969 and reflect on what it means for us today on the 40th anniversary.

by Tim Scott

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)

Aims

To help students appreciate the significance of the Moon landing in 1969 and reflect on what it means for us today on the 40th anniversary.

Preparation and materials

  • Photos/pictures of the 12 men who have walked on the moon or the 18 men on the Apollo missions. You could play a game where students have to work out who is Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins (who never walked on the moon but stayed in the lunar module). Alternatively, reward (possibly with a chocolate bar) anyone who can name an astronaut other than Neil Armstrong.
  • As an introduction or concluding song, play ‘Fly me to the Moon’ by Frank Sinatra, ‘Space Oddity’ by David Bowie or ‘Rocketman’ by Elton John.
  • You can look at astronaut Alan Bean’s art on
    http://www.alanbeangallery.com/collection.html
  • For any students who would like to know more, the book Moon Dust by Andrew Smith (2005) has a series of recent interviews with the remaining astronauts, except Neil Armstrong.

Assembly

  1. Monday 20 July will be the 40th Anniversary of the Moon landing by the Apollo 11 space mission in 1969. The astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first man on the moon and the event inspired the world and for many marked the beginning of a new era where anything seemed possible.

    Ask your parents or grandparents if they can remember what they were doing when the moon landing was shown on TV. The event was so monumental that, like later events such as the death of Princess Diana in 1997 or the collapse of the Twin Towers on 11 September 2001, it has become a defining moment in history. (If you as a teacher are old enough to remember watching the moon landing, tell the children what the event meant for you and perhaps ask other colleagues present at the assembly.)
  2. 40 years ago astronaut Neil Armstrong did something no one had ever done before. On 20 July 1969, he became the first person to set foot on the surface of another world. A worldwide audience of millions watched and listened in awe on TV as Armstrong slowly climbed down the ladder of the lunar lander. Then, he stepped on the Moon’s surface where he could look up and see Earth far above him – so far away that with his thumb he could cover the Earth from his view. There he said these well-known words, ‘That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.’
  3. In 1961, US President John F. Kennedy had set a challenge for NASA, the US space agency. The challenge was to land a man on the Moon before the end of the decade (i.e. before 1970) and return him safely back to Earth. Eight years later, at 9.32 a.m. on 16 July 1969, that dream became a reality as the huge Saturn 5 booster rocket blasted off carrying the Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin from Cape Kennedy in Florida to the Moon and arriving in lunar orbit three days later on 19 July.

    The race to meet President Kennedy’s goal (that he personally never saw fulfilled, as he was assassinated in 1963), would require the greatest technological and engineering achievement the world had ever seen. Driven by dreams, and funded by a desire to beat the Russians, the plan to get a man to the Moon was a real race. The first Apollo missions were spent getting ready for the landing. Apollo 8 and Apollo 10 even flew all the way to the Moon, around it, and back to Earth. Finally, the stage was set for Apollo 11.
  4. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin spent 21 hours on the Moon. They did experiments and took pictures. They also brought back a large cargo of moon rocks. You can see a lunar lander and samples of moon rock at the Science Museum in London.

    After their stay on the Moon, they blasted off in the top part of the lunar lander and docked with Columbia, the command module. Columbia was piloted by astronaut Michael Collins, who had stayed in orbit, circling 10 miles above the Moon, waiting for Neil and Buzz. Finally, all three astronauts flew back to Earth in Columbia. They splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on 24 July 1969 to global acclaim.

    The lunar landing module that took Neil and Buzz down to the Moon’s surface was called ‘Eagle’, hence the expression ‘The Eagle has landed’ that you may have heard.
  5. There were a total of six successful manned missions to the Moon, with Apollo 17 in 1972 being the last time people have walked on another planet. There are plans for another manned mission to the Moon before 2020 and possibly to Mars within this century. Perhaps it could be one of you or your children that make that journey!
  6. Astronaut Gene Cernan, from the final Apollo mission, to date the last man to walk on the Moon, said recently of the Apollo 11 landing: ‘It was probably the greatest singular human endeavour, certainly in modern times, maybe in the history of all mankind.’

    In a rare interview, Neil Armstrong admitted that at the time of the launch, he guessed that their chances of returning alive were about 90 per cent, and the chances of a successful landing on the Moon were only 50 per cent. But they went anyway, and gladly. Their courage and heroism will be remembered; their bold steps not only inspired an entire generation of Americans but the whole human race.
  7. Between July 1969 and December 1972, 18 astronauts travelled on Apollo missions to the Moon, three on each mission. Of these, 12 walked on the Moon, as in each case a pilot remained in the command module (CM) orbiting the moon. Those 18 astronauts were:

    Apollo 11 – Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin (CM pilot Michael Collins)
    Apollo 12 – Pete Conrad and Alan Bean (CM pilot Richard Gordon)
    Apollo 14 – Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell (CM pilot Stu Roosa)
    Apollo 15 – David Scott and James Irwin (CM pilot Al Worden)
    Apollo 16 – John Young and Charles Duke (CM pilot Ken Mattingly)
    Apollo 17 – Gene Cernan and Jack Schmitt (CM pilot Ron Evans)
  8. All who made the amazing journey to the Moon and back were permanently shaped by their experiences. Nine of the astronauts who walked on the Moon are still alive. How were the lives of those men changed by their adventures? What are the main impressions of someone who has had the unforgettable experience of walking on another planet? Here are some of Apollo 15 astronaut Jim Irwin’s comments:

    ‘It made me feel like an angel – weightless and free.’
    ‘God became real – my faith in him came alive – I felt as though I had become a new person.’
    ‘Earth looked like a beautiful marble.’
    ‘Everything became crystal clear – our thinking, our understanding of each other. We found that we knew what each other was thinking before we spoke!’
  9. Many of the astronauts found the return to Earth difficult, struggling to find an answer to the question ‘Where do you go after you’ve been to the Moon?’ Would life be one slow anticlimax from there?

    They reacted to their experience in different ways. Neil Armstrong became a teacher and retreated from public view. His partner Buzz Aldrin spent years in alcoholism and depression, then became involved in developing space ideas. Alan Bean of Apollo 12 became an artist. Jack Schmitt became a US senator. Both Charles Duke and the late Jim Irwin spent most of the rest of their lives telling people about their faith in Jesus Christ. All described an almost mystical sense of the unity of humankind as seen from afar.

Time for reflection

President Kennedy’s dream led to the accomplishment of his goal, 40 years ago, that gave society great hope for the future. The next time you look up and see the Moon in the night sky, be inspired and remember the vision, the courage, the ingenuity, and the sheer human effort it took to get men there.

The technological discoveries that were made in the effort to send people to the Moon helped lead to the development of the computer chip and a variety of other technologies that society depends upon today.

Do you have a dream? Have you, like President Kennedy, set a goal for your life? Are you thinking about university? Work at it, even if it seems impossible at the moment.

Whether it’s learning to play the guitar, achieving something that no one in your family has done before you, starting a multimillion pound business, playing for a premiership team or becoming an astronaut, when God gives you a dream, God leads you to the resources to help you. Ask God. Keep the dream alive!

Prayer

Give thanks for the bravery of those astronauts who flew to the Moon so many years ago,

and remember all those who supported their flights.

Remember those who still fly, in Shuttles or in the International Space Station.

Keep alive in us the urge to explore, to boldly go where no one has gone before.

Amen.

Publication date: July 2009   (Vol.11 No.7)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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