To infinity and beyond – well the moon anyway!

To infinity and beyond – well the moon anyway!
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Did you know that 2019 will mark 50 years since a human being first stepped on the moon?  How exciting is that? To be specific, 20th July 2019 will be the momentous milestone, as NASA successfully sent Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins to our planet’s only natural satellite just in time to make President Kennedy’s goal of getting man to the moon before the end of 1969.

I love knowing about this stuff and so do my children.  Everyone knows the first man on the moon and probably the second but the third is always a little less known, which is why we taught the boys about him.

It’s strange that we have never been to the moon since.  What is also amazing is how technology has moved on.  The technology that was in Apollo 11 was less than what is now in our smart phones!

Yes, we’re all carrying around far more technology in our pockets than NASA’s combined computing in 1969, and yet we’re no closer to standing on the moon now than when we were playing Snake on our trusty Nokia 3310s back in the year 2000.

Never mind our smartphones — there’s more advanced technology in children’s toys nowadays than what could be found in the technology that put man on the moon. In fact, the Telegraph pointed out that the must-have items on many children’s Christmas lists contain some of the most advanced technology available, from voice recognition to internet connectivity.

What was staggering about that computer power was it cost $3.5 million, making it slightly more expensive than the latest iPhone. Even an older model iPhone, such as the iPhone 6, is noted by the publication as being able to perform instructions 120,000,000 times faster than the Apollo era computer.

And yet, despite this raw power in our hands, most iPhones these days only navigate their owners to the nearest Tesco as a hands-free sat nav, rather than to the moon and beyond.  The fact remains that, despite being done on the computing equivalent of a dinosaur, NASA still put a man on the moon. So why haven’t we repeated the mission? Presumably, with modern technology outstripping the computing potential of the 1960s, the task should have been easy.

Technology Review suggests the reason is simply down to resources.  They argue that the original mission to the moon was one born of speed, not sustainability. It was a race to get a man on the moon, and so there was no focus to making the model sustainable for repeat ventures. There was a motivation, and a powerful one: to beat other countries and get a man on the moon before the end of 1969.

Now, with the reasons being slightly less grand (if one can call ‘moon-exploration’ a comparatively tame motivation), finding the funding and resources to back such a mission is much harder. The rocket used in the Apollo Mission, Saturn V, would cost around $1.16 billion today. There’s no other rocket with the firepower to match this, so travelling to the moon really does require that hefty expense.  No one wants to sink billions into repeating a mission that was already a success. Stepping on the moon just isn’t the lucrative goal it once was.

So while the technology of the Apollo 11 mission, sprawling through numerous rooms to churn out a tiny bit of processing power, might seem utterly outdated and laughable compared to a single, sleek smartphone tucked neatly into a stylish iPhone leather case, it turns out the team and the mission as a whole had something we no longer have; a valuable reason for wanting to get to the moon!

 

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