About a month or two ago, while surfing the many channels that I seem to have subscribed to via Astro, I ended up watching a small part of a documentary entitled Moon Machines. Luckily, as most shows aired on Astro are repeated at a later time, I managed to watch all six episodes of the Moon Machines series of documentary over a six-week period. The documentaries brought back a warm feeling and some fond memories of my childhood. It reminded me of my deep fascination about the moon in particular and the cosmos in general.
As a little boy, I have always been fascinated by the moon. I can’t really remember when this fascination started or what exactly brought it about. However, I am pretty certain that I wasn’t fascinated with the moon because I happen to be a werewolf, just in case you were wondering. What I do know, is that as a child I gazed up longingly into the star littered sky on clear nights. I enjoyed looking up at the beautiful cream coloured moon, imagining what it would be like to be on it and how earth would look like from up there. I used to wonder how the moon changed shape as it waxed from a new moon into a full moon and then waned from a full moon back into a new moon. I also wondered how the moon stayed up in the sky with all the stars at night, just as I wondered what kept the sun up there too.
At some point in my childhood, I had this weird believe that the moon was made of cheese. I am certain that this must have been the result of a cartoon that I watched as a little child. At that time, it made silly young me fret as to what would happen to the moon if mice managed to get up there and build a colony. Perhaps that is what caused the moon to wax and wane, I thought. Thankfully, a combination of clarifications from my parents, a book about the moon and a section of an encyclopedia on the moon, helped set the record straight on what the moon actually is. Otherwise, I may have well gone to school, thinking that the moon is made of cheese and it is hung on the sky, just like the stars and sun.
“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” – Neil Armstrong 
Growing up being inspired by the images of lunar landings from my encyclopedia, I wanted to travel to the moon. I wanted to walk on the moon, just like the astronauts from the Apollo missions had done. Back then, what Neil Armstrong, followed by “Buzz” Aldrin, did, on 20th of July, 1969, encouraged me to read up all that I could find from the limited books that I had access to, about space programmes and missions to the moon. On hindsight, I think my ambition to become an engineer had some roots in my desire to go to the moon, as much as my incorrect childhood believe that it is an engineer who drives the locomotive engine at the head of the train.
Watching the documentary gave me some fresh insights into what happened in the background, from the conception of the idea to the actual landing on the moon and beyond. To start with, it took the vision and inspiration of great leaders to set the tone for the trip to the moon. Then American President, John F. Kennedy (JFK) made a speech in Congress, on the 25th of May 1961, stating his vision of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. JFK’s speech in Congress, got the Americans started on their mission to land a man on the moon.
“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.” – John F. Kennedy
Other than JFK, there was also the leadership of various people within the space programme, from NASA to the various vendors working with them, who led teams of thousands of people to work on the complex and challenging programme. There is no doubt that the space race with their Cold War adversary, the Soviet Union, was a big motivation in America’s thrust to go to the moon. Afterall, until Apollo 11 landed successfully on the moon, the Soviets had always been one step ahead of the Americans in the space race, from having launched the first man-made satellite into Earth’s orbit to the first man-made satelite to orbit the moon.
Besides leadership, the amount of technological advancement and progress that came about from the mission to the moon is mind-boggling to say the least. There was the question of how to get man to the moon in the first place, which resulted in perfecting the already available rocket technology, from the fuel to the various stages of the rocket during its flight up to Earth’s orbit. It also brought about the design of the various modules in which the astronauts will travel in and return to earth. The final design, resulted in the command and lunar modules as well as the cone-like landing capsule.
Then there were the other questions, like what the astronauts were going to eat and drink, how they would go about with their regular bodily functions, how they would walk on the moon, how they would maneuver their space vehicle and so much more. Other than the rocket technology, most if not none of the questions had ready answers when JFK made his speech in front of the Congress and set the timeline to land man on the moon. Interestingly, each question resulted in new discoveries and huge leaps in technology. Integrated circuits, spacesuits, freeze-dried food, insulation, improvement in computer programming as well as the reduction in the size of a computer, were among some of the results of the advancement in technology, just to name a few.
There is no doubt that the mission to the moon back in the 1960s and early 1970s, had inspired an entire generation of people, not just in America and the Soviet Union but all over the world. Today, at a time when many countries around the world seem to face a lack of visionary leadership and people trying to destroy each other while attempting to send us back centuries into the Dark Ages, perhaps what we need is another mission to the moon or an equivalent to that. Such a mission might just be the catalyst that we need to get humanity focused on a common deed centering on something constructive and productive rather than trying to bring about Armageddon. A mission beyond the moon, perhaps to Mars, might just be the answer that we need to inspire yet another generation of humanity and bring us forward.