What's New: July 2019

A Small Step ...

The upcoming month is perhaps most notable for being the 50th anniversary of the first human mission to the Moon's surface. Apollo 11 was the culmination of an 8-year effort to land humans on the Moon, beginning with President John F. Kennedy’s call for the undertaking in 1961, amid the heightened geopolitics of the Cold War. At that point, there had been one crewed flight into Earth orbit (by the Soviet Union) and only one suborbital flight by the United States. Projects Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo sent astronauts on increasingly challenging flights to Earth orbit, to orbit around the Moon, and – eventually – to the lunar surface. Between 1969 and 1972, six missions landed a total of 12 astronauts on the Moon. Though the missions were not primarily about science, they managed to return a total of 842 lbs. of lunar samples and provided priceless information on the origin and evolution of the Earth and Moon.

The first crewed landing, Apollo 11, was launched on July 16, 1969, and set down in the Sea of Tranquility on July 20. Back in 1969, the Moon was approaching First Quarter phase when the landing occurred; the date was chosen so that the low angle of the rising Sun at the landing site on the eastern portion of the Moon would provide long shadows and a better view of relief on the surface. This year on July 20, the Moon will be a waning gibbous, best seen between midnight and dawn. The landing site will have similar illumination, but this time from the west, with the Sun setting.