The 50th anniversary of the Apollo Lunar Module Eagle touching down on the moon July 20, 1969, offered an opportunity to reflect on the significance of the historic event.
During a July 18 presentation at the Bexley Public Library, 2411 E. Main St., that drew about 40 guests, Ohio Wesleyan University physics and astronomy professor Robert Harmon spoke about the developments that led to the moon landing. He also offered insights about the technological progress that has been made since then.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Apollo program of the 1960s and 1970s originated in the 1950s Cold War between the United States and Russia, Harmon said.
After the Russians launched the Sputnik rocket into Earth's orbit Oct. 4, 1957, "there was a lot of consternation in the U.S.," he said. "We were afraid that the Russians were ahead of us in science and technology."
Three U.S. presidents, Harmon said, led the push for Americans to be the first to land on the moon. They were Dwight D. Eisenhower, whose administration oversaw the creation of NASA in 1958; John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.
"Johnson was much more of a space enthusiast than Kennedy was," Harmon said. "Under Johnson, there was a push to get the job done."
Celebrations all over the nation marked the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. However, Harmon cited research that found only about 53 percent of Americans in the 1960s were in favor of the federal government spending the estimated $25 billion it took to send Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, a Wapakoneta native, and Buzz Aldrin to the moon. Command module pilot Michael Collins flew the command module Columbia alone while Armstrong and Aldrin explored the moon's surface.
"There were a lot of Americans who were not in favor of spending the money it took to put people on the moon," Harmon said. "There was a lot of opposition to the moon program at the time."
Harmon shared facts about the Apollo 11 program, including that several women were instrumental in the male-dominated mission. One of them was computer scientist Margaret Hamilton, who helped design software that was compact enough to fit into the Apollo 11 spacecraft. In 2016, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama for her innovative work.
"She's 82 now and still going strong" as a software engineer and founder of Hamilton Technologies Inc., Harmon said.
The Apollo program did not usher in an era of frequent space travel by everyday earthlings, as some in the scientific community predicted, Harmon said.
"It's 2019 and nothing even close to that has happened yet," he said.
But he said moon exploration has yielded important discoveries, including how studying matter from the moon's surface has informed theories about how the moon, sun and other planets formed. The Apollo 11 space mission also employed integrated circuit technology that was innovative in the 1960s, but is omnipresent today in everything from toasters to cellphones, Harmon said.
The moon landing "wasn't ultimately successful in ushering in the 'space age,' " he said. "It was successful in ushering in the modern age we know today: the digital age."