This Month in Space: July

50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Lunar Landing

On July 16, NASA celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission. It was the summer of 1969 when a crowd of thousands camped out on the beaches of Florida’s Space Coast and watched history be made. Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin blasted off from Kennedy Space Center on a Saturn V rocket. Four days later, 650 million people around the world sat on edge as they watched Armstrong and Aldrin land on the moon solidifying the United States as a powerhouse in space exploration. In celebration of this momentous mission, Kennedy Space Center held multiple events to commemorate the Apollo program including the unveiling of the world’s largest Moon Pie and a special day with Apollo 15 astronaut, Al Worden.  

NASA Releases Breathtaking Panoramas of Apollo Landing Sites for 50th Anniversary 

NASA imagery specialist, Warren Harrold from the Johnson Space Center digitally stitched together 70 original photographs taken during the Apollo missions to form stunning panoramic images. Apollo 17 astronaut, Harrison Schmitt confirmed the accuracy of the images.  “The Valley of Taurus-Littrow on the Moon presents a view that is one of the more spectacular natural scenes in the Solar System,” Schmitt stated. “The massif walls of the valley are brilliantly illuminated by the Sun, rise higher than those of the Grand Canyon, and soar to heights over 4,800 feet on the north and 7,000 feet on the south. At the same time, the summits are set against a blacker than black sky — a contrast beyond the experience of visitors from Earth. And, over the South Massif wall of the valley, one can always see home, the cloud-swirled blue Earth, only 250,000 miles away.” A fully immersive panorama of these images can be viewed on NASA’s Johnson Space Center’s Facebook account.

(NASA’s Johnson Space Center Image)

Vice President Mike Pence Visits Kennedy Space Center for Apollo 11 Celebration

Vice President Mike Pence visited Kennedy Space Center on Saturday, July 20 to give remarks in the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the agency’s Apollo 11 Moon landing and announce to America the completion of NASA’s Orion crew capsule for the first Artemis lunar mission. “America will return to the Moon within the next five years and the next man and the first woman on the Moon will be American astronauts,” Pence said: “We’re going back.” The Artemis program will land American astronauts on the Moon by 2024 and establish a sustainable human presence on Earth’s natural satellite. Artemis will also make history by landing the first woman on the Moon.

Wheels and Legs Installed on Mars Rover, Set to Launch July 2020

The Mars rover is one step closer to launching after it received a shiny new pair of wheels and legs from NASA engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. According to NASA, the legs were manufactured similarly to ultra-high-end bicycle frames and are made from titanium. The six wheels are made of aluminum, which each wheel having its own motor with the front and rear two having individual steering capabilities so the rover can turn 365 degrees in place. Engineers also built a “rocker-bogie” suspension system that allows the new rover to drive over rocks and rugged terrain, and handle 45-degree tilts without falling over. Scheduled to launch July 2020, the Mars rover will board the Atlas V-541 and will reach the Red Planet in February 2021. Then it will take samples of rocks, soil, and look for past signs of microbial life on the planet.

(Mars 2020 Rover – NASA Image)

NASA Awards Contract for Second Mobile Launcher at Kennedy Space Center 

Bechtel National, Inc, an engineering company based in Reston, Virginia has been selected by NASA to build and design Mobile Launcher 2 or ML2, for Exploration Ground Systems at Kennedy Space Center. The 44-month contract is worth $383 million and according to NASA the ML2 will be the ground structure that will be used to assemble, process, and launch NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) Block 1B rocket and Orion spacecraft from Launch Pad 39B at Kennedy Space Center for missions under NASA’s Moon to Mars exploration approach. The launcher will include a base structure, the platform for SLS, and a tower that will provide SLS and Orion with communications, power, fuel, coolant, and stabilization before launch. Check back here at the end of August to get your monthly space recap from Space Coast Launches, or plan a trip to Florida’s Space Coast and see for yourself what’s happening on the Space Coast.