Forty-nine years ago today, humans first set foot on a world beyond Earth — and by the time the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing rolls around, a year from now, there’s likely to be more moon milestones to celebrate.
Today NASA’s myriad Twitter accounts are buzzing with #NationalMoonDay shout-outs, and the space agency’s website is filled with links to Apollo 11 lore.
You can bet next year’s #Apollo50 observances will take on a far higher profile. Even Seattle’s Museum of Flight is getting in on the action: Apollo 11 artifacts on loan from the Smithsonian, including the Columbia command module, will be on display starting next April and running through the 50th anniversary.
But the year ahead isn’t just about past glories: We’re due to see a ramping-up of missions to the moon, in part because of the Trump administration’s initiative aimed at lunar exploration and settlement.
This week, NASA released a list of more than two dozen companies that are interested in a NASA program aimed at supporting the delivery of commercial payloads to the lunar surface.
The list includes the heavy-hitters of the commercial space effort (Aerojet Rocketdyne, Blue Origin, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman / Orbital ATK, Sierra Nevada Corp., SpaceX and United Launch Alliance) as well as scrappier veterans of past XPRIZE competitions (Astrobotic, Masten Space Systems, Moon Express, PTScientists, TeamIndus).
There’s even a Seattle company that’s voiced interest in the moon race: Spaceflight Industries, which has struck deals for launch logistics with several of the aforementioned ventures.
Yet another Google Lunar X Prize veteran, Israel’s SpaceIL, says it’s gearing up to launch a lander to the moon by the end of the year on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Details about the mission have been scant, but sources say privately that preparations are proceeding apace.
China, meanwhile, is gearing up for two robotic lunar landing missions: Chang’e-4 is scheduled for launch later this year, with the goal of making the first-ever soft landing on the moon’s far side. Chang’e-5, currently due for launch in 2019, aims to bring about four pounds of rocks and soil from the moon’s polar back to Earth for study.
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India is also planning to send an orbiter, lander and six-wheeled rover to the moon by the end of this year. It’s all part of India’s Chandrayaan-2 mission, which follows up on the successful Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter mission of 2008-2009.
Such moon missions are a more meaningful tribute to Apollo’s legacy than museum artifacts. But if it’s space history you’re looking for, there’s more of that to look forward to in the months ahead as well.
A big-budget movie based on the definitive biography of Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong, “First Man,” is due for release in October. (It’ll have its first showing next month at the Venice Film Festival.) And an upcoming documentary titled “Apollo 11” takes advantage of film footage that shows the actual events from 49 years ago in high resolution.
You can even own a piece of history: Heritage Auctions is getting ready to start selling more than 2,000 items from the Armstrong family estate. “There will be items that make you think, items that make you laugh, and items that make you scratch your head,” one of the late astronaut’s sons, Mark Armstrong, said in a statement.
For more about that sale, and all things having to do with Apollo 11 and space history, check out Robert Z. Pearlman’s coverage on CollectSpace.