Apollo 11’s landing on the moon inspired the new space race, paving the way for a spurt of human space exploration and advancements.

50 years since Apollo 11 landed on moon A look at space explorations evolutionApollo 11 after landing on the moon. Credit: NASA
news Apollo 11 Saturday, July 20, 2019 - 13:53

In a race that's remembered as a show of one-upmanship during the Cold War, the United States of America and the Soviet Union aimed as high as outer space to establish their power. But the Soviets were the first to beat their rivals in the Space Race, with the first artificial satellite Sputnik 1 launched into the Earth’s lower orbit in October 1957. They even made a series of unmanned lunar mission in the 1960s.

All through these celestial achievements of the Soviets, the US was preparing for something extraordinary, a lunar mission that would go on to be the watershed moment in the history of the international space sector. On July 16, 1969, the US space agency, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), launched its first crewed spacecraft, Apollo 11. And exactly 50 years ago this day, on July 20, Apollo 11 became the spaceflight that put a man on the moon, thus establishing contact with a celestial body. "The Eagle has landed," announced the first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong, when he, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins successfully landed Apollo 11 lunar module.

Apollo 11 astronauts, still in quarantine van, greeted by their wives at Ellington Air Force Base. Credit: NASA

Apollo 11’s landing on the moon eventually inspired the new space race, paving the way for a spurt of human space exploration and advancements, including space programmes and space tourism. From the competition to establish power among other countries, it graduated into a competition to find the best answers to go beyond the moon.

Here’s the metamorphosis of the space world as we know it:

Apollo–Soyuz Test Project: In July 1975, ending the Cold War space race, the US and Soviets took their first joint space flight, which included joint and separate scientific experiments.

The Moon Treaty: Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, better known as the Moon Agreement, is a multilateral treaty that came into force in July 1984. The agreement states that the Moon and other celestial bodies should be used exclusively for peaceful purposes and the resources of Moon are the common heritage of mankind, among other provisions. While seven countries have ratified the Treaty, 11 countries have acceded and five countries, including India, are signatories. 

Space telescope: NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, launched on April 24, 1990, is the first optical telescope placed in space, which has an unobstructed view of the whole universe. It has been used to observe the distant stars, galaxies and other planets in the solar system. In 2009, NASA launched Kepler space telescope, discovered more than 2,600 exoplanets (planets outside the Solar System) in the night sky.

International Space Station: On November 20, 1998, five space agencies - NASA, Russia’s Roscosmos State Corporation for Space Activities (Roscosmos), European Space Agency,  Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and Canada Space Agency (CSA) - launched a space station in the low Earth orbit. ISS is a habitable artifical satellite where astronauts and cosmonauts live and explore more about the living and working in space. Orbiting every 90 minutes, ISS is used to test of spacecraft systems and equipment for space missions to the Moon and Mars. 

Missions to Mars: Although Soviet Union’s Mars 3 (launched on May 28, 1971) was the first spacecraft to make the interplanetary mission to Mars, it failed shortly after landing. After NASA's Viking 1 and Viking 2, Opportunity rover mission (Landed on January 24, 2004) made the longest - 15 years - exploration on Mars. European Space Agency’s (ESA) Mars Express spacecraft (launched on June 3, 2003) provided images of Mars from its High-Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC). 

India’s first mission to Mars - Mangalyaan or Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) - launched on November 5, 2013, generated images provided unique information about Mars at varying spatial resolutions and Mars Global data that showed clouds and dust in the atmosphere, among others.

Mars Disc captured by Mars Colour Camera onboard Mangalyaan

Evidence of water on moon: Chandrayaan-1 was India's first mission to the moon launched by Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) on October 22, 2008. The data collected by Chandrayaan-1 showed evidence for water in the exosphere of the moon, on the surface and also sub-surface. Chandrayaan-2, which will be launched on July 22, will be its second unmanned mission to the moon. 

How Chandrayaan-1 and its findings paved way for Chandrayaan-2


Multiple satellites, one rocket: Setting a world record, ISRO launched 104 satellites in a single launch in February 2017 into orbit aboard the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV). The 104 satellites included three from India and 101 smaller nano-satellites from five countries: the US, Israel, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Kazakhstan. 

Landing on moon’s far side: In January 2019, China’s Chang'e 4 became the first spacecraft to land on the far side of the moon (the side not visible to the Earth). Chang'e-4 is exploring Von Kármán Crater (in the southern hemisphere) to understand the moon's interior and history. 

The Black Hole discovery: In April 2019, a team of astronomers and computer scientists found the visual evidence of the existence of black hole, something that Albert Einstein had postulated in his Theory of Relativity and something that was earlier considered impossible or fictitious to the world. The first image shows the silhouette of the black hole with a ring of light around it. The image was obtained by a global network of radio telescopes in the Event Horizon Telescope array, which observed the black hole in the M87 galaxy.

28 Space Agencies: 72 countries have formed government space agencies, of which 14 agencies have launch capability. Six government space agencies of the US, Russia, India, Europe, China and Japan have full launch capabilities, even to recover multiple satellites and conduct space probes.

Space Tourism: Russia's Soyuz launch vehicle is being used for crewed space flights, including NASA’s crew. Dennis Anthony Tito, the American businessman and multimillionaire, is the first space tourist to pay US $ 20 million and take an eight-day trip to the outer space. Seven other space tourists, too, made visits to the orbit, conducted by the Russian Space Agency.

Private players jumped on board to capitalise on space travel. Elon Musk’s aerospace manufacturing company, SpaceX, engaged in several resupply missions to ISS, launched an electric sports car, Tesla Roadster, and its mannequin driver, Starman, as the dummy payload into the sun’s orbit. Dragon spacecraft is on the road to transport astronauts to and from ISS.

Other private aerospace companies like Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin and Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic are developing suborbital space flights, which will not complete one orbital revolution and offer only a few minutes of zero gravity. 

Google also entered the fray with a competition - Lunar XPRIZE - to facilitate affordable access to the moon and help space entrepreneurs to develop long-term business models on lunar transportation.

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