Point of Beginning Blog

Tangents: Defining Space

July 28, 2009
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This week marks the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing. At 10:56 p.m. EDT on July 20, 1969, Commander Neil Armstrong made a great stride for humanity when he became the first person to set foot on the moon.

But it's a historic event that almost didn't happen.

According to NASA officials, once the astronauts in the rapidly descending Eagle lunar module got a closer look at the computer's intended touchdown site, what was supposed to be smooth was, in fact, rock strewn and unlandable. Improvising, Armstrong quickly took manual control and traversed above the moon's surface in search of a place to land. With 30 seconds of fuel to spare, they finally positioned themselves for a safe landing. And the rest, they say, is history.

Forty years later, perspective and positioning, once again, are of utmost importance for a successful return to the moon in 2020. And I'm not just talking about finding a good parking space. A primary task for NASA is to enable its astronauts to find their own bearings. The lack of visual cues on the featureless terrain makes it difficult for moonwalkers to judge distance, direction and put things into perspective, which can be downright dangerous for any number of reasons.

Last November, POB reported on the Lunar Astronaut Spatial Orientation and Information System program, or LASOIS, tasked with developing a navigation system that will aide the astronauts of the Constellation Program's 2020 moon landing. LAOIS is intended to enhance an astronaut's spatial-orientation capabilities by providing consistent global and local orientation and navigation information via the combination of an integrated network of motion-based sensors, surface cameras and orbiter maps with information technology, which will provide astronauts with the familiar look and feel of a GPS-based system. LASOIS testing and astronaut training is projected to be completed by 2011, which gives NASA nine years to successfully incorporate LASOIS before the 2020 Constellation Program moon landing.

It's fascinating stuff. These astronauts are like the earthbound explorers of yesteryear who searched out new lands whether for the thrill of exploration, a lust for treasure, or to determine its potential for colonization. Then comes the surveyors who lay the foundation for organized development of the new society.

It all makes me wonder: How long will it be before surveyors suit up for space? What would surveying entail on the moon, Mars, or elsewhere, and what kind of equipment might you need to get the job done? Send me an e-mail, and let me know what you think.

Have a great week,
Wendy Lyons,
eNews editor

P.S. Check out the 40th Anniversary celebration on NASA's Web site for newly released video and audio from the Apollo 11 mission and much more.

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