Space Technology cover

Space Technology

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An incredible convergence of technology and human ingenuity was achieved as Commander Neil Armstrong and Colonel Buzz Aldrin stepped cautiously down the ladder of the lunar module Eagle and onto the moon’s surface. “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” came Armstrong’s crackled transmission from the surface of the moon.
That sentence would resonate with millions on earth for years to come.


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Space Technology

Small Step

An incredible convergence of technology and human ingenuity was achieved as Commander Neil Armstrong and Colonel Buzz Aldrin stepped cautiously down the ladder of the lunar module Eagle and onto the moon’s surface.

“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” came Armstrong’s crackled transmission from the surface of the moon.

That sentence would resonate with millions on earth for years to come. It was July 20, 1969 I was 13 years old, watching a fuzzy black and white television transmission with fascination and anticipation; the space program held me captive. An avid science fiction reader, this was not fiction - but mankind’s greatest achievement.

Saturn V Carrying Apollo 11

Saturn V Carrying Apollo 11

16 July 1969

At 9:32 a.m. EDT, the swing arms move away and a plume of flame signals the liftoff of the Apollo 11 Saturn V space vehicle and astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr. from Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A.

NASA; restored by Michel Vuijlsteke

Memory

That memory was rekindled over four decades later.

I was clattering along the rails in a passenger train from Kansas City to Galesburg Illinois recently while listening to Buzz Aldrin’s audiobook version, Magnificent Desolation retelling the story in detail. I was transported back in time.

The book begins with an account of the Apollo 11 mission details from launch to splashdown. Buzz shares the specifics of the potential dangers that could have terminated the mission or the astronauts, which adds a compelling aspect to the book. It is a real page-turner.

You're Go For Landing

“Eagle, you are go for powered decent” was the transmission from mission control in Houston.

At 33,000 feet above the moon, the guidance computer that supplied the navigation data for landing—and subsequently for takeoff from the moon malfunctioned. “Program alarm,” said Armstrong. “12:02!” It was an alarm they had not experienced during training simulations of the mission. Was it hardware or a software problem? There was no time to run an analysis.

“Houston, can you give us a read out on the 12:02,” was the urgent request from Neil. Within three seconds the order came from mission control, “you’re go for landing.” Mission Control considered the malfunction as an acceptable risk. “What exactly did that alarm mean?” thought Buzz.

Long Way Down

Long Way Down

This view of Earth showing clouds over water was photographed from the Apollo 11 spacecraft following translunar injection. While astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, commander, and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., lunar module pilot, descended in the Lunar Module (LM) "Eagle" to explore the Sea of Tranquility region of the moon, astronaut Michael Collins, command module pilot, remained with the Command and Service Modules (CSM) "Columbia" in lunar orbit.

NASA

Overload

Colonel Aldrin described the two computers used in the Apollo 11 spacecraft.

The command module piloted by Michael Collins and the lunar module pilot Neil Armstrong each computer contained 74 kilobytes of memory and a 2.048-megahertz processor, [which would be considered minuscule today]. The 12:02 alarm, as it turns out, was the result of a data overload.

As a safety precaution, Aldrin had left the rendezvous radar on while making the final decent. The navigation computer programmed for landing was therefore overloaded and would set them down dangerously in a very large crater . . .

Changing Times

While gazing out the trains window that morning, watching the cornfields pass by, I realized that man’s achievements in computer technology has far exceeded’ NASA’s wildest dreams from 1969.

As a point of contrast, the device I used to listen to the audio book contained 32 gigabytes of memory storage and a 1 GHz Cortex-A8 processor. That’s 33,554,432 times more memory storage and a processer is 1,000 times faster than Apollo 11 had in its computers.

Stepping Out

Stepping Out

The World In Your Hand

Looking with awe at my phone’s high resolution retina display I held the result of 40 years of technology’s advancement:

a digital music player, an on demand color movie viewer, my portable university, an instant text messaging device, a digital library of books, my e-mail correspondence tool, a portable internet radio, and a complete GPS navigation system. In summary; if you own a smart phone you have a complete entertainment, learning, and communication center in the palm of your hand.

Landing On The Moon

Despite these advances, man has not set foot on the moon or another planet since December 11, 1972. Developments in technology now originate from the private sectors of business.

Who would have ever dreamed such a thing would have been possible that July 20th, 1969, as the black and white TV flashed history before my eyes!

Video 4:30 minutes

July 20, 1969

Video