Moon Talk-The 40th

Ok-what were the first words broadcast from the Moon’s surface after the first real moon walk 40 years ago today? 

No, not Neil Armstrong’s famous prefabricated and misquoted words: “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” (Only recently have sound engineers managed to pick up the missing indefinite article that retrospectively save the famous lines from being tautologous). 

No, not even Armstrong’s “Tranquility base here.  The Eagle has landed.”  No, that was the second communication. 

The first rather prosaic words, from lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin, whose mother’s maiden name was prophetically Moon, were “Contact light.  Motor control to ‘ auto”.  Engine arm off.”   One Giant Leap: Apollo 11 Remembered  By Piers Bizony.

Like all the  famous events we “remember”  a poteen of moonshine seems to overlay the pattern of history.  What we think we remember about the first moon landing  ain’t necessarily so, especially if we were living in New Zealand at the time and we think we recall the live video shots of Armstrong’s first foot on the moon, while Aldrin waited his turn to descend from the lunar module and Michael Collins was over the moon, like the rest of America, in the command module. The fact is that the video pictures weren’t live on this side of the Tasman.  

The Apollo 11 mission fulfilled President John F. Kennedy’s goal of reaching the moon by the end of the 1960s, which he articulated to a joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961: “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.

As has often been pointed out, the goal has a clear outcome and timeframe and caught America’s imagination in a time when the USA was on the back foot in the Cold War’s sublimated space race after Yuri Gagarin’s first manned orbit less than six weeks earlier stretched the space lead Sputnik had created  for Russia in 1957.

And this morning, on the 40th anniversary of the moonwalk,  there was the clear yellow tinged disc of the new moon just above the horizon!  It’s still hard to believe (and obviously impossible for the conspiracy nutters) that people have been to the moon and left footprints frozen in time in the airless and thus windless lunar surface to prove it.

 NASA’s  current Constellation Project encompasses a new project — the Moon base and the conquest of Mars. But it is not rocket science to realise that in straitened economic times  the astronomical cost involved (at least US$150 Billion) is as big an obstacle as the scientific and technological challenges of building and inhabiting a lunar platform as a staging post to Mars.

I had dinner in Christchurch last week with two NASA people.  Jonette is working on Lunar Surface Systems and her husband Mark on engineering support. In September, their friend and colleague Dr Jack Bacon, NASA engineer working on the International Space Platform and noted futurist and author will be back in New Zealand speaking at conferences and in house meetings. He will make two public presentations in Wellington and Christchurch on The Parallel Bang-The explosive growth of human understanding in the 21st century.  More at:


Apollo 11 – Video of Touchdown and Radio Transcript  

BBC Moon Week – Three Drunk Monkeys 

Buzz- a bad rap?    Buzz Aldrin’s Rocket Experience with Snoop Dog and Talib Kweli

Lyall Lukey  20 July 09


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