Saturday, July 20, marks the 50th anniversary of the first landing on the moon. Every day this week, News@Northeastern will look at the technological breakthroughs, the political decisions, and the feats of daring that made the landing possible; the lunar landing itself; and what the future might hold for space exploration. Northeastern’s Archives and Special Collections is the exclusive home of The Boston Globe’s Library Collection, and we’ll use those images to highlight the space program and the university’s role in space exploration.
When the astronauts of Apollo 11 stepped out of the lunar module onto the surface of the moon, they opened up a whole new realm of scientific exploration.
Between 1969 and 1972, astronauts landed on the moon in a total of six NASA missions. They set up seismometers to measure shockwaves caused by meteoroids crashing into the moon or moonquakes rattling its surface, they ran experiments to measure solar wind, and collected rock and dirt samples to be studied back on Earth. Later missions brought lunar rovers (essentially space go-karts) to let astronauts explore for miles around their landing site.
The last three Apollo missions were canceled because of budgetary concerns and waning public interest. But many of their parts were repurposed for Skylab, the first U.S. space station.
Three separate crews, each with three astronauts, spent time on Skylab conducting experiments in the station’s astronomical observatory and scientific laboratories. The final crew left the station in February of 1974, after spending 84 days in space.
The Apollo program took one last historic flight in 1975. As a symbol of the improving relations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, an Apollo spacecraft was sent into orbit to meet with a Soviet Soyuz capsule. The two vehicles docked together, and the five men (two Soviets and three Americans) spent a day and a half conducting experiments together as they orbited Earth.
In 1981, NASA launched the world’s first reusable spacecraft designed to carry humans into orbit. Columbia was the first of five orbiters, which became known as space shuttles, each of which could carry up to 11 astronauts. Over the 30 years of the shuttle program, astronauts deployed and serviced satellites, constructed and visited space stations, and launched the Hubble telescope.
The shuttle Endeavor carried up the first U.S.-built piece of the International Space Station. The space station, which is still in orbit today, was a massive collaborative effort between the U.S., Russia, several European nations, Japan, and Canada. It is believed to be the most expensive object ever built. The experiments conducted on board and the lessons learned throughout its operation will prepare humans for missions to Mars and beyond.
The benefits of space research for people on Earth are huge. Each step of the way, [space exploration] has been characterized by this wild imagination, this dreamy, outside-the-box thinking, and there’s a sense that this is part of what it is to be human—pushing the limits of what you can do.
Associate Professor of Political Science & International Affairs