The men on the moon

"ONE SMALL STEP for man, one giant leap for mankind." With words reminiscent of a children's game, Commander Neil Armstrong, at the culmination of a 204 thousand million dollar effort, took man's first step on the Moon. Does this association of ideas set the true tone of this achievement-a step in a game for children or is there something more? Let us not submit to the temptation to merely decry this achievement, there can be no decrying the quality of success, although admittedly, a scientist like the writer will, more than the general public, savour more fully the richness of the achievement. How was this achieved and what praise is due, what blame to be apportioned?

Strangely, in considering the moonlanding the aspect of it which strikes the writer as most wonderful is not the fantastic technical success, but the organisation, the management which brought a thousand streams of human activity to converge on a few thousand square feet in the Sea of Tranquility on the surface of the moon.Undoubtedly, waste and duplication of effort there must have been. Three brave men gave their lives in a twenty second inferno to prove that technical mistakes could be made.

But when one considers the state of disarray of the American space programme when President Kennedy set the target, one cannot but feel admiration for the effectiveness of the American organisational genius: Fifteen million separate parts make up Apollo 11. All of them were designed and manufactured since that target date was set less than ten years ago. Before Project Mercury was successfully completed, the equipment for Project Gemini was under construction and the Saturn V rocket was already on the drawing boards. Backed up with enormous funds and informed by careful feasibility studies that no half hearted approach could meet the 1970 deadline NASA could happily initiate five simultaneous design studies and bring them to completion before choosing which one of the five would be chosen for incorporation into Apollo.

Not all energies had to be concentrated on the machinery of the moon shot itself. Information too, was precious. The clumsy and failure-prone Ranger project which crash-landed probes on the moon, gave way to Surveyor with probing instruments testing the moon's surface, and the beautifully responsive Lunar Orbiter Series with five spectacular successes out of five attempts to put photographic satellites into. precise orbits around the moon.

Closer to home, earth orbiting satdlites probed the dangers of the Van Allen radiation belts around the earth and the possible hazards of weightlessness and meteorites. One cannot help but admire the way in which all of these activity threads have come together to contribute to the Apollo 11 success-not a lucky gamble but a cool calculated and imaginatively tested enterprise.

While not imagining for a moment that they represent anything but a small portion of the Apollo objective let us consider the scientific experiments. The first action taken by Armstrong after deploying th~ LM television camera was to collect a contingency sample of moon material. The contingency sample was so called because should the moon-craft have to leave again in a hurry this could be the only tangible product of the trip. Making allowances for the effect of contaimnation by the descent engine the analysis could still be extremely useful. Apart from the collection of carefully catalogued samples of moon rock and dust for subsequent analysis back on earth, Armstrong and Aldrin had three other scientific tasks to perform in a scheduled 2 hours and 40 minutes of EVA or Extra Vehicular Activity.

Apollo 11 carried with it EASEP (Early Apollo Scientific Experiments Package). Subsequent Apollo flights will carry Apollo Lunar Surface Experiment Package the monic form of which is left as an exercise for the reader! To be deployed at a safe distance from the exhaust gases of the ascent stage engine was PSEP designed to detect and signal back to earth vibrations of the moon's surface. Powered by solar panels and therefore operative only during the heat of the long 340 hour lunar day, PSEP should detect moon-quakes or the vibrations caused by the impact of micrometeorites on the moon's surface. Just as seismic studies of the transmission of earthquake shocks can be used to infer the existence of a molten core at extreme high pressures beneath the solid crust of the Earth's mantle, so a study of the transmission of shock waves through the moon should cast light on its composition. It is reported that PSEP has already demonstrated its effective sensitivity by reporting back to Earth the footsteps of the two astronauts.

Keeping PSEP lonely company on the waste-land of Tranquility base is LRRR, a mirror system which will be used to reflect light signals from Earth to Moon and back. More passive than PSEP in that it has no source of electric power LRRR obviously could not be designed as a single reflecting surface because this would poseproblems of alignment to reflect the signals back precisely to the Earth observers. Instead the reflector is composed of prisms of fused silica which act rather like the cats' eyes familiar on Irish roads, to reflect the light beams back in the direction from which it came. The reflecting device, called a retro-reflector, is mounted on a folding support structure for aiming and aligning the rays towards earth.

The availability of light sources capable of transmitting light over the quartermillion mile moon-earth distance and back again at sufficient intensity to be detected back on earth is itself a happy coincidence of timing. The light sources will be lasers, a quite revolutionary new method of generating light beams which we will hear very much more of in the years ahead. Of presently available sources only lasers can produce beams which are so perfectly a parallel beam that the loss of intensity by divergence of the beam can be overcome.

Observatories in the U.S. and elsewhere will send laser signals to the moon and observe the reflected beams. Presumably the principal observable will be the time between despatch of a laser pulse to the moon and its reception back on earth. Knowing the velocity of light it will be possible to measure with great precision the distance from the earth station to the LRRR at the time of tlle experiment. Apart from giving precise information in the moon's orbit about the earth and on the lunar radius undoubtedly it should be possible to observe effects of irregularities in the moon's rotation which might arise from inhomogeneities in the moon's composition. In addition to simple distance n1easurements we n1ay see measuren1ents of LRRR to earth relative velocities by measuring doppler-shifts.The official NASA description of the experiment refers 30 of laser light signals. Another possibility of considerable current interest would be a measurement of earth continental drift by triangulation measurements from two earth stations to the moon.

A word on the principle underlying the laser may not be out of place. Lasers w~re developed independently of manned or unmanned space exploration. Laser stands for light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation. Unlike ordinary light sources which emit random bursts of light from millions of atoms each behaving independently of the others the design of a laser contrives to regiment atoms to emit light in perfect step. The result is coherence which does not specially concern us here and also extreme parallelism of the emitted light. A laser beam aimed at the moon n1ay have diverged enough to illuminate all of Tranquility base, but by contrast the best adjusted search-light beam of conventional design would have dissipated its energies by the time it had travelled to the top of our atmosphere. Current applications for lasers include precision drilling and machining, spot-welding (in particular in ophthalmic surgery where the detached retina can be reattached to the back of the eye). All these applications depend on the intense heat possible with the fine focus achievable by a lens operating on the extreme parallelism of a laser beam. In the near future undoubtedly laser-beam light may be used to carry line of sight radio and television transmission.

Temporarily laid out on the surface of the moon during EVA was also a solar wind experiment. Consisting of a strip of thin aluminium foil mounted'like a roller blind, this was suspended above the surface of the moon for about two hours while Armstrong and Aldrin went about the remainder of their tasks. The foil, which with the samples of lunar surface material was sealed under high vacuum in one of the two san1ple return containers, will be analysed at the University of Berne in Switzerland, to measure the proportions of minute traces of inert gas atoms like Neon and Argon trapped by the foil as they sped by en route from the sun in the so called solar wind.

Almost certainly each of these experiments could have been performed without the need to return a craft from a landing on the moon or in the case of the solar wind experiment without going as far as the moon at all. On the other hand the return to earth of samples of the moon material is technically the most difficult scientific task accomplished by Apollo 11. An equivalent unmanned operation would be almost as difficult an engineering proposition. Certainly it would avoid the difficulty of safely packaging the delicate human pilots but equally, it would lack the superb adaptability of man as part of a guidance and control instrument.

The lunar rock samples like the solar wind experiment will be maintained under high vacuum conditions until all observations which might conceivably be affected by exposing them to Earth's atmosphere have been made. Procedures, elaborate almost to the point of comedy, have been devised to protect us against the very unlikely possibility of dangerous organisms being released on our planet. Specially bred germ-free mice will be exposed to contact with the moon dust before direct contact with the outside world is permitted.

According to the official NASA handout the lunar receiving Laboratory (LRL) at the Manned Space Flight Centre at Houston serves four basic purposes; the quarantine of crew and space craft; containment of lunar and lunar-exposed material and quarantine testing to search for adverse effects upon terrestrial life; the preservation and protection of the lunar samples; the performance of time critical investigations (i.e. which might slowly be affected by the change from the moon's environment); the preliminary examination of the returned samples.

Amongst the facilities provided at an estimated cost of nearly 10 million dollars are biomedical laboratories. Here germfree mice as well as plants and seedlings and lower animals including house-flies and cockroaches will be exposed to lunar material. Lunar material will be applied to twelve different culture media under several different environmental conditions, for observation of fungal or microbial growth. Here also human and animal tissue cultures will be used to detect the presence of imported viruses.

The quarantine devised for crew and support personnel is expected to last fourteen days, but the facility is designed for longer if required. Receiving Laboratory personnel will be allowed to leave the experimental area but only under stringent control conditions. According to one report, while no living quarters have been provided for isolation of the Laboratory personnel in the event of an outbreak of some mysterious Moon-fever, the corridors are of extra-width to accommodate this remote possibility. The prospect of call ing on say the National Guard to maintain isolation of the LRL while some dreadful contagion stalks the corridors has a nightmare quality that will undoubtedly appeal to the science-fiction enthusiast.

In addition to biomedical examinations the LRL has also a responsibility for physical studIes. Physical science testing of the lunar samples will include visual, X-ray, and spectroscopic examination, organic and inorganic gas analysis and magnetic studies. Radioactivity measurements in a special radiation laboratory buried fifty feet underground to enhance its ability to detect extremely low levels of radioactivity, will permit estimation of the age of the moon samples.

Listed by NASA amongst the physical testing projects without comment are two words which particularly capture the imagination of the writer. These are the words Magnetic Monopoles.


Most Rev. Dr. Lucey: "I don't know anything about the moon. I feel we should deal with people here on earth before going into space."

Micheal MacLiammoir: "When Columbus discovered America-or was it Breandan ?-it was a stupendous moment for the imagination of the world. Some believed it was I Bhreasail: the Isles of the Blest. Could it be from this that Brazil forms her name? Some others believed it to be the wrong side of India. In any case, the newlydiscovered country was a new worldan t-Oilean Dr as the insular Gaels of Ireland called it-it was bound to be a land of endless enchantment. So indeed it was until it became that dreadful thing: A FACT. From that moment the endless enchantment became an endless gamble, brilliant, successful, and ultimately saddening. Because it meant Wall Street and Coney Island as well as more wonderful things."
"That is how I feel about going to the Moon. As long as man has lived on this earth the moon has been a mystery, an enchantment, an inspiration. If the day-or the night-ever comes when we can go to it as we now can go to what was once Northern America and is now just the U.S.A., much of its strange magic will disappear.

"'Do drop in for the week-end, dear so-and-so,' we will be saying (through God knows what medium) to our friends. 'We think of popping over to the Moon for dinner on Sunday night: if one can find one single restaurant that won't be crowded. Oh no, not Luna Luna-it's become quite impossible lately, so full of bores from Stoney Batter. No: somewhere quiet if there's anything quiet left! . . . "

"No, I am not as excited as perhaps I should be about those amazing adventures. I genuflect with admiration but not with any faith in the future."

Ulick O'Connor: "It's been for so long a symbol of distance for poets and writers that it is disappointing to see it ravished. Personally, I felt more keenly about the houses coming down in Hume Street. "

"I think space has brought the Russians and the Americans closer together-the Americans admire technology so much that when they saw the Russian sputniks going up they realized that the Russians were a people to be admired."

Dr. John De Courcy Ireland: "It's a disaster that it's not the work of the whole of mankind. The value that could unquestionably flow from space exploration, indirectly rather than directly, should be the patrimony of everybody and not one or two particular nations." "I would much prefer to see the vast sums involved going into the exploration of the ocean. 71 per cent. of the earth's surface is covered by waterthere is a more immediate value available to man right on our doorstep."

Monica McEnroy: "A wonderful achievement. It has the brutal magnificence of a woman in diamonds drinking champagne in a dirty kitchen full of hungry children. Please Jesus they will find the place full of super-beings ready to invade us so that porridge instead of white phosphorous becomes instant down here."

Joseph Foyle: "It's something that I don't feel myself getting very enthusiastic about. It's a distraction from the real human problems. I suppose it's a boost in morale for the American nation but from the point of view of immediate human improvement it's hard to see its relevance."

The hope is, that trapped in a piece of moon rock will be found at last the elusivc particle predicted by P. A. M. Dirac, one of the founders of the Modcrn Quantum Theory of Physics and so far undetected. Searches for this particle, carrying not electric but magnetic charge, have been conducted both in natural phenomena and at the powerful atom-smashing synchrotrons now taking second place only to the space programme in research expenditure. Should such a particle be discovered in moon-rock it would have significant effect on the thinking of physicists about the nature of the physical laws governing the Universe.

This then describes the secondary purpose of the moon expedition. The primary purpose must be accepted as non-scientific -a great leap for mankind-a leap of the imagination rather than of knowledge.

I have taken some space and time to describe the experiments conducted as a measure of the benefits of the Apollo programme. Since we are about to mention the debit side of the ledger we should also add to the credit side the so-called technological fall-out of the moon programme. From baking dishes to real-time computer systems the moon landing has generated practical side effects which are having a direct impact on our everyday lives.

The cost of the Apollo programme todate is estimated at 2.4 billion dollars. The current annual cost is 5 million dollars. To see these figures in perspective they have to be set against the estimated annual cost to the U.S. of 33 billion dollars for Vietnam. Perhaps we should view 5 million for the moon race as 5 millions less for the arms race. However we view it this is still a staggering expense. Can it be justified by a of scarce resources into other projects more immediately rewarding than a small boost to our knowledge of the Universe? This question mark will hang over man's conquest of the moon, probably unresolved forever, because who is to say what might have been? Scientific advance is not made to order. You cannot say to a scientist"Sit there and discover something." Discoveries grow from activity and the strange resources of men's minds stimulated by perhaps unrelated objectives,
What of the future? Is it possible that we are on the threshold of voyaging out into the Universe to meet other men on other worlds? Is the science fiction writers' forecast of settlements on the Moon and Mars more than wild imaginings? Let us take a sober look at the reality.

That planets exist somewhere in the Universe with conditions very similar to those of Earth seems very likely. There must be somewhere amongst the twinkling bright spots of the night sky, suns like ours, and surrounding them planets as fair and fruitful as ours. However, between us and them there is a barrier insurmountable to us and that is time and distance. You may say, " cannot we make space ships to travel fast enough to see us there and back? " It is here that the subtlety of the barrier shows itself. According to Einstein's theory of Special Relativity, well tested in modern physics, no material object can travel faster than the speed of light. Here is the ultimate frontier of our ignorancea few hundred light years away.

Less fanciful than the first question, the second question permits a more optimistic answer. Yes, there will be settlements on the moon, hardly however, composed of frontiersmen colonising a ne-.v domain, but of scientist sand engineers excited at the prospect of giving their instruments a clear look at the Universe unblinkered by Earth's cloying atmosphere, Thus not by space voyaging, but, as always the real impact of man on ignorance of the distant Universe about him will come from pointing telescopes at the stars.

On balance then the voyage of Apollo 11 would seem to leave credit in the ledger. An organisational and technical expertise on a scale never before achieved has demonstrated its ability to meet a target carefully and clearly set. Now let us come back to Earth and see whether we can apply the same expertise to the immediate practical problems of mankind-the problems of hunger, poverty and disease. Let us hope that the next small step will be a giant-step for all mankind to share.


WHOEVER THOUGHT up the phrase "astronomical cost" had in mind the huge figures astronomers find when they try to measure time and distance between the stars in terms of our earthly units of length and time. During the past decade it has taken on a more literal meaning, for the cost of probing into space, in terms of expenditure and human effort, are correspondingly large. . To what purpose - the endeavours of scientists, and others who seek to master nature, are prone to raise the question, cui bono - who will benefit? And the first answer often is "who knows"? But, by and large, humanity does derive gain from an expansion of knowledge and the conquest of its natural environment.

Anyway, the landing of the American crew on the moon is a truly fantastic achievement of man's intellect, purpose and organisation. It is a great triumph for the citizens of the United States. That it is historically significant is instinctively felt all over the world, a feeling demonstrated by the spontaneous and enthusiastic interest of Western peoples, the ackno"Vledgments of the Russians, and the tribute of silence from the Chinese. This intuitive appreciation calls, however, for a more rational assessment.

What is at once apparent is that man is now organising his scientific and technical resources at a rate very much beyond what could have been imagined as late as fifty years ago. Man seems to have evolved on this planet more than a million years back but for most of this time, that is, throughout the long period of prehistory, his cultural progress, in the archaeological sense, was slow and often stagnant. Two hundred years ago the technical resources of the race had not greatly advanced beyond those available at the dawn of history. Since about 1800 A.D., however, the speed-up has been spectacular and the progress rate today may likewise be aptly described as astronomical. And, as in the past, this material development has ..

stimulated a rise in populations. To cope, man must now continue to pursue the quest of knowledge and further command his surroundings.
It is difficult to predict how this will happen. In the past the needs of war were often the stimulant. That is not to say that scientific thought and discovery are usually rooted in conflict nor is technological advance in peace time unlikely. The reverse is the case but, on the other hand, the pressures of war more than once decisively accelerated development. Einstein's mass-energy relationship and nuclear physics would probably still be academic subjects but for the atomic programmes of World War II. Today's rockets and space ships are the children of the German V.2 weapon. For all the optimism expressed in TV discussions, the fact remains that the present lunar projects are largely due to the struggle for power between East and West. This does not, however, lessen the significance of it all for the future of human society.

There is an instinct in man to find out and sometimes, as in the case of Faraday's electrical experiments or Einstein's thinking, the dramatic applications which follow the enquiry are not suspected at the start. In the present situation one may predict that the conquest of the moon will be used to further research but the foreseeable gains for humanity as a whole remain highly speculative. Without a doubt, scientists have gained a new and unique specialised laboratory. The absence of an atmosphere on the moon means that astronomers may now hope to probe the universe with optical and radio telescopes in a way they could never do on earth. The physicist and astrophysicist The culmination of a 204 thousand mil/ion dol/ar effort will have a similar advantage in the study of solar and cosmic radiation. The lunar vacuum should facilitate research with particle accelerators and atomsmashers and the chemist may investigate chemical reactions, particularly between ions, under conditions which are difficult to reproduce down here. The horizons of the geologist are broadened and although the existence of life as we know it on the moon is most unlikely even the biologist may be helped to find the answers he is seeking. All this adds up to mean that in the long run a further important advance has been made in discovering the workings of nature and solving the riddle of the universe.

The study of the moon itself must yield information of value and promote the investigation of the solar system. It is too early to say whether lunar minerals will be worth exploiting for terrestial use but the possibility is there. It may be feasible to set up factories for certain specialised products for transportation to earth, such as vacuum tubes and computer components, and power from the sun could probably be more easily harnessed for industrial purposes than with us. Furthermore, although the moon is barren, waterless and air less as we understand the terms, the elements hydrogen, oxygen and others may be present there in quantities sufficient to supply, from lunar resources, the needs of scientists and technicians working on the site.
If these assessments are correct, there is the real possibility that specialised-probably small-colonies may be established on the moon in foreseeable time. These will be in contact with the earth, and the moon will prove to be a natural space station for man. It is conceivable that it will be found to be the most adequate and convenient base for space ships designed to explore the solar system. The way to Mars may well be via the moon. All this of course implies colossal organisation and may indeed involve the whole human race. Yes, it must now be contemplated but only for the few.

Will man colonise the moon and other planets as he did the surface of the earth? The sober answer is: hardly. Regrettably, it is most unlikely that the world's population pressures can be relieved by extra terrestial colonisation, certainly not in time to solve the population explosion problem which already faces us. Man needs water and food supplies and air to breathe and these are not available on the moon with the readiness required. They do not seem to be available on the other planets of our solar system and other systems are so far away that the present likelihood of ever reaching them is very remote indeed.

These opinions, of course, are based on the present stage of our knowledge. The scientist can never be dogmatic but his accumulating lore constantly leads him to more certain predictions. It is important to grasp that the lunar proiect did not involve the discovery of new fundamental physical principles which were not known in 1939. In fact, it served in many ways to confirm established laws. These laws, the idea that the speed of light is the highest that can be attained and the known distance of the nearest stars, impose practical limits that seem to confine mans' wanderings to the vicinity of his own sun.
What the ultimate benefit to mankind will be cannot therefore be defined. One hopes that undertones of military significance will be suppressed and after that the broadening of our understanding of nature's ways and the control of the factors which determine our lives must surely be for the good of the race. Perhaps all this great endeavour will contribute to our knowing the inner secrets of physical life and thus to the abolition of diseases like cancer.


Man has reached the moon and will continue reaching. The urge is built in.