Apollo 12: Marking 60 years of man’s terrestrial romance with space

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Prof. MK Othman

By Prof. MK Othman

Readers may recall my pledge to continue the discussion on this very interesting and most adventurous human exploration and expedition of nature hundreds of thousands of kilometers above the earth’s surface.

Apollo 11 traveled a distance of 384,000 kilometers in 76 hours (about 5,000 km/hr.) carrying three American astronauts – Armstrong, Aldrin, and Michael Collins – before it entered into a lunar orbit. One can imagine the thoughts of the families and friends of the braved astronauts who mortgaged their lives to be the first human beings on the lunar surface.

The Apollo 11 mission was the most celebrated global event that kept about 650 million people glued to their television sets as the event was unfolding.

In Nigeria, particularly, the Hausa community, two legendary singers, Alhaji Mamman Shata of Nigeria and Maman Gawo of Niger Republic, sang Apollo 11 so eloquently that made the mission appear as if it was taking place in Nigeria.

While Shata explicitly commended the giant stride of the USA for the mission, describing the speed of Apollo 11 as fast as that of lightening (sauri kamar warkiya), Gawo warned America to “let the sleeping dog lie to avoid its madness (catastrophe)” (kar kuje ku nemo wata rigima).

Sixty years ago, when Americans were busy investing billions of US dollars in space exploration to advance human progress, Africans were busy killing each other for material gains, political power, and aggrandisement.

Unfortunately, we in Africa are still at each other’s throats, killing, maiming, antagonising, and suffocating one another at the expense of our development. Thus, despite our talents and unlimited natural resources, we cannot address the minutest challenge of basic needs – electricity, portable water, infrastructure, health, and education.

Shamelessly, we are yet to be food secure.

Back to Apollo 11 program, between 1969 and 1972 six Apollo missions brought back 382 kilograms of lunar rocks, core samples, pebbles, sand and dust from the lunar surface.

The six space flights returned 2200 separate samples from six different exploration sites on the Moon. After these successful Apollo missions, another manned mission to the moon in the 1980s called Challenger was a mortal disaster that shocked the world beyond belief. What really happened? This was the question posed in the last line of part II of the Apollo 11 article.

Immediately after the success of the Apollo 11 mission, America sent another manned spacecraft to the moon. Apollo 12 was the sixth manned flight in the United States Apollo program and the second to land on the Moon. It was launched on November 14, 1969, from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

After these successful Apollo missions, another series of manned missions in the 1980s called ‘Challenger’ was performed. However, the last Challenger mission in 1986 was a mortal disaster that shocked the world beyond belief.

Challenger (Orbiter Vehicle Designation: OV-099) was the second space shuttle craft after the Columbia popularly called Apollo. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), an independent agency of the United States America made the two shuttlecrafts for the civilian space program, as well as aeronautics and aerospace research.

Rockwell International’s Space Transportation Systems Division based in Downey, California contractually built Challenger for NASA. The Challenger’s maiden flight was made on April 4, 1983, thereafter made nine successful flights and landings before its most shocking and terrible space disaster of 1986. Before the disaster, Astronauts made tremendous progress in the nine space shuttles made by Challenger over a period of three years.

The missions were accomplished between 4th April 1983 when it was first launched and 30th October 1985 when the ninth mission was accomplished.

First, it was in Challenger, the first woman was sent to space, as there was no woman who participated in the Apollo mission. Sally Kristen Ride was the first American woman in space in 1983. She was the third woman in space overall, after USSR cosmonauts Valentina Tereshkova and Svetlana Savitskaya were earlier sent in 1963 and 1982, respectively.

Historically, Sally remains the youngest American astronaut to have traveled to space at the age of 32. Second, Guion Bluford became the first African-American in space in the third mission of Challenger on 30th August 1983. Bluford was overall the second person of African descent to go to space.

Before becoming an astronaut, he was an officer in the US Air Force assigned to NASA, rising to the rank of colonel.

Additionally, Challenger (STS-41G) carried the first “two women”; Ride and Kathryn Sullivan as well as the first Canadian, Marc Garneau in 1984. Other milestones Challenger achieved included the first night launch and landing (STS-8) and the first operational Spacelab flight (STS-51B).

Spacelab was a space laboratory that fit into a shuttle’s cargo bay and allowed the conduct of several experiments designed for tests in microgravity. Although the laboratory was accommodated in Columbia on STS-9 for the first time, it was in Challenger’s mission, the lab was considered working for the first time.

Similarly, there were many accomplished activities during the nine successful missions of Challenger.

The spacewalk was first practiced during the Challenger mission. Spacewalk is an extravehicular walk, an activity done by an astronaut outside spacecraft beyond the earth’s appreciable atmosphere with little gravitational force.

There was also a solar maximum mission. In total within the nine missions, the challenger spent 62 days, 7 hours, 56 minutes, and 22 seconds in space.

The number of days for each mission ranged from a minimum period of five days to 8 days from 1983 to 1985 and carried several people in space.

Those series of events accomplished during nine missions of challenger made the World be almost used to space missions as a common phenomenon and suddenly the Challenger disaster came.

It was very devastating, tragic and a major catastrophe in the history of NASA. What really happened?

Othman writes from Zaria

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Sky Daily