October SkyTalk | Forgotten Space-Age Milestones

Every year, the anniversaries of two of the greatest events in all of human history come and go with little notice from most of the human race. We skywatchers should do everything we can to keep these alive and not allow them to fade forgotten into oblivion.

It happened suddenly and without warning on the evening of October 4, 1957. The Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite into orbit. Circling the globe every 90 minutes, it sent out a faint “beep beep” radio signal, and it and it’s last stage rocket booster were faintly visible to the unaided eye to skywatchers (including myself!) everywhere. Thus began the Space Age!

This historic event ultimately led just 12 short years later to the second anniversary event on July 20th 1969 – one that electrified the entire human race. NASA had sent its Apollo 11 spacecraft and three man crew into orbit about the Moon. On that truly magical evening as the entire civilized world watched and listened, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin flew the spacecraft’s lunar lander to a safe touchdown on the Moon’s Sea of Tranquility. Shortly thereafter, they became the first human beings to walk on another world!

I, along with many other astronomers and space enthusiasts, have for several years now been campaigning for a national or international holiday to commemorate this epic achievement. As I always tell my lecture audiences, if there’s a Columbus Day on the calendar there should surely be a Moon Day one. Columbus landed on a previously unknown part of our own world. Armstrong and Aldrin landed on an entirely separate world!

-James Mullaney,
Former assistant editor at Sky & Telescope magazine & author of nine books on stargazing. His latest, Celebrating the Universe!, is available from HayHouse.com.