Remember the first moon landing? That was in 1969, half a century ago.
As the Mars rover Perseverance landed on the surface of the red planet last month, it carried a small helicopter. Its purpose is to “test powered flight on another world for the first time.”
Here on earth that happened 120 years ago, on 17 December 1903. How time flies!
The Wright brothers’ first flight at Kitty Hawk in North Carolina, United States, with Orville at the controls, lasted 12 seconds. His brother Wilbur ran at the wingtip until the Wright Flyer touched terra firma again short of 40 metres down the track.
It’s truly astonishing how far aviation has advanced in just more than a century.
In this contribution I share some images from my photographic archives that I captured on 35mm colour slide film at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC more than 20 years ago and at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida even earlier.
Charles Lindbergh was the first aviator to cross the Atlantic solo, taking just over 33 hours in 1927 in the single-engined Spirit of St Louis.
The supersonic Concorde – sadly now retired – could fly from London to New York in two hours.
Concorde flew at twice the speed of sound.
The intrepid Chuck Yeager was the first to break the sound barrier. He achieved this elusive goal of flying faster than the speed of sound almost 75 years ago – on 14 October 1947 – at Muroc Army Air Field, now Edwards Air Force Base, in the Bell X-1 Glamorous Glennis. He named the plane after his wife. Yeager died last year, aged 97.
But since this remarkable milestone things have really speeded up.
In the 1960s, the US Air Force and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) were testing a high-speed rocket-powered experimental aircraft, the North American X-15. In this arrow-like plane, pilot William J Knight set a record in 1967 that still stands: Mach 6,70 – almost seven times the speed of sound. This was 7 274 km/h or just over 2 000 metres per second!
The aircraft was flying at the edge of outer space – at an altitude of 102 100 feet, about 31 kilometres up in the sky.
Barely two years later, in 1969 – just over half a century ago – a three-man crew blasted off atop a Saturn V rocket on the Apollo 11 mission towards the moon. On 21 July astronaut Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon’s surface, the first person ever to do so. His companion Buzz Aldrin joined him a few minutes later. After some hours during which they performed various tasks including collecting lunar material, they lifted off to rejoin the third crew member, Michael Collins, in the Lunar Command Module, Columbia, that returned them to earth.
Plans are afoot for a moon base from which we’ll venture further into space, perhaps to inhabit another planet like Mars.
Only time will tell of the new frontiers awaiting us.