IT’S been 44 years since Apollo 11 landed on the moon and astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin wandered the lunar landscape.
But they weren’t the first Apollo mission, merely the culmination of a program that painstakingly tested each new system before attempting the moon landing.
In fact it was 45 years ago right now that Apollo 7, the first manned mission in the program, made its flight.
Astronauts Wally Schirra, Donn Eisele and Walter Cunningham were the crew allocated to test out so many of the Apollo systems.
They were also the first three-member crew mission. They performed the first live TV broadcast from space, had the first flight of the Apollo space suits, they were the first to drink coffee in space and they were the first astronauts to have head colds during a mission.
But 45 years is a long time and, looking back, can we say it was worth the effort and expense to land a man on the moon and return him safely to earth?
When asked, most people immediately think of direct benefits, the spinoff ideas and inventions that came from the program.
There are quite a few of these and, believe it or not, at some time your life has probably been touched in some way by space technology, as there have been about 1400 NASA inventions that have benefited the world we live in.
I suppose arguments can be made that they didn’t need the space race to invent any of these and they would have come about eventually, but it’s hard to image not having right at this moment such things as improved athlethic footwear, heart pacemakers, kidney dialysis machines, cordless drills and quartz watches, all of which owe their existence to space technologies.
But in my opinion the greatest achievement of Apollo is the inspiration it created in so many people.
In this respect Apollo was simply a performance that captured the global imagination, but what a performance it was.
Costing around $120 per American over the nine years in which it ran, or roughly $13 per year, it was also an astonishingly cheap performance.
The total bill may have added up to $24 billion over the nine years, but to put it in perspective, at the time the US was spending $30 billion annually on the Vietnam War.
And by 1980 Americans spent more money playing Space Invaders than they did on the space program.
So, was Apollo worth all the effort and expense?
I think if it had been purely about the moon the answer would be no, but thankfully it wasn’t, so the answer is a very definite yes.