WASHINGTON – It’s been a momentous year for space exploration. The Mars Curiosity rover continues to astound with its desert southwest-like vistas of Gale Crater. The most complex machine ever sent to explore another planet is gearing up for its first drive into the Martian highlands to an area with promising geological features dubbed Glenelg.
The sustained excitement over Curiosity’s mission has of course been tempered by the untimely death on Aug. 25 of the first man on the Moon, Neil Alden Armstrong.
The Apollo 11 commander understood he was part of a continuum -- just one of 400,000 engineers, technicians and managers working on the Apollo program.
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Just as Armstrong stood on the shoulders of aviation giants, so too the designers of Curiosity relied on the powered descent landing technique pioneered by Armstrong on Apollo 11 to land a two-ton machine in the middle of a Martian crater.
Armstrong’s humility and dignity endeared him to humankind as much as his feats as a test pilot and astronaut. As reader Mike Peralta noted, Armstrong lived an “exemplary life.”
The crew of Apollo 1 shortly before a launch pad fire in January 1967 that killed (from left) commander Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee. Before the fire, Gus Grissom had been ticketed to be the first man on the moon.
Then there are the other 11 guys who walked on the Moon (and other astronauts who died trying). While gathering stories and pictures for our special edition commemorating the 40th anniversary of the flight of Apollo 11
, we were given a peak at the spacesuits worn by the moon walkers. Those suits and other Apollo gear were at the time being stored in a decidedly unimpressive warehouse in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC. We are pleased to report that all the Apollo artifacts have since been moved to a new, climate controlled storage facility at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles International Airport in Northern Virginia.
What follows is just a small part of the Smithsonian’s collection, along with other tributes to Neil Armstrong and the Apollo program.
A section of Pad 34 at Cape Canaveral, Fla, where the crew of Apollo 1 was killed in a launch page fire on January 27, 1967. The tragedy forced NASA to completely redesign the Apollo spacecraft that eventually carried 24 astronauts to the moon.