Monday, July 20, 2009

One Small Step....

Today marks the 40th anniversary of a mind boggling milestone. 50 years ago people would not believe that humans had the capability and the drive to send human to the moon and return them safely back to Earth. But it was feat that was done and repeated 5 more times not counting the two flights to the moon that preceded Apollo 11. This is an important milestone not only for the US but for the human race. It reminds us that anything is possible and the the realm of the impossible can be actually overcome by human endurance, persistence, ingenuity and intelligence. It redefined our view of not only ourselves and our capabilities but also our view of the universe.

Today the US and other nations are looking at the moon again and further out to Mars but it won't be any easier or less expensive compared to the feat 40 years ago despite advances in computer technology, safety systems and materials. NASA is aiming to return US astronauts to the moon by 2020 though they have a very long way to go and numerous technical challenges yet to overcome with the Ares I, Ares V, Orion CEV and the LSAM vehicles that will get them there. It now all depends on our willingness to expend time, material and, more importantly, money if we want to get there. The President and Congress has the fate of this endeavor in their hands just as they did back in the 60's. I hope we have the perseverance to see it through.

On a personal note, 20 years ago in March 1989, Neil Armstrong paid a visit to Columbia University's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. It was special moment for me as an a student and someone who has held a lifelong fascination and interest not just in aviation but space. Meeting and talking to Neil Armstrong is something that I still replay in my mind. What is fascinating the most was his ease at speaking to us and the fact that he wanted to share in experiences. It was as if he felt at home and comfortable surrounded by aspiring engineers at the school. The discussions not only focused on Apollo 11 but also what he did before and after NASA (like the Rodger's Commission to investigate the Challenger Accident). One particular memorable story didn't even have anything to do with Apollo 11 but about his time as a test pilot at Edwards Air Force Base. He was flying in the front seat of a two seat jet aircraft (forgot the type) with none other than Chuck Yeager in the rear seat. Well they had to land because of an unspecified emergency and after they landed found themselves stuck. Neil Armstrong remembers Chuck Yeager laughing in the back seat because Armstrong got themselves stuck in the mud and couldn't get free no matter how much thrust he throttled. A great story by a man who is not embarrassed to talk about it. It also bought home how involved he was with other great of aviation and how he himself helped advance aviation and spacecraft design himself.

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