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Wayback Machine

Heather Roy's Diary

Posted on 17 Jul 2009

One Small Step For Man...
This Saturday television viewers will be treated to a re-run of what is, in my opinion, one of the best adventure movies ever - Tom Hanks' 'Apollo 13', which is being screened to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11 on July 16 1969.

It took three days for Apollo and her crew to reach, and establish orbit around, the moon - with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin leaving the main part of the spacecraft on July 20 to pilot the lunar module to the moon's surface.

The mission's perilousness tends to be underestimated; there was no way that the lunar module could be tested using the conditions it would encounter on the moon and it is a little known fact that President Nixon had two speeches ready for the waiting world: one in the event of a successful mission, and another - never used - in case the astronauts were killed.

In any event, the lunar module 'Eagle' was piloted to the Sea of Tranquillity - named so by early astronomers who assumed the moon's large dark areas were seas, and which are now thought to be large areas of lava dating from an age when the moon had volcanic activity.

As it turned out, the Eagle's planned landing zone was covered in boulders and Neil Armstrong elected to fly on in search of a smoother site. Although he was successful in this, the module contained less than a minute's worth of fuel when it finally touched down.

In 1969 there was no satellite TV, and New Zealand was on the wrong side of the Earth to see the event live. This meant that those determined to hear of the landing had to listen by radio to Armstrong's famous words: "The Eagle has landed."

Surprisingly, the astronauts didn't leave the Eagle immediately. Film of the landings was flown to New Zealand and we watched the astronauts lope around on the moon's surface. Their movements were intriguing - heavy spacesuits protected them from cosmic rays and micro-asteroids and, with the moon's gravity around 80 percent weaker than Earth's, they took huge strides with modest effort. We watched avidly as they practised loping with two legs together and jumping, ending up with a sort of canter that would be impossible to emulate on Earth.

The moonscape proved a major disappointment. Despite many guesses about the terrain, it all looked the same - everything looked like sand dunes and it was impossible to judge distances. A number of space rocks were returned to Earth and geology benefited from the discoveries.

While it seemed then that a major scientific breakthrough had been achieved, in retrospect, the space race was mainly a manifestation of US and USSR rivalry.

Since that day, numerous other Apollo missions were scheduled but - as the programme was cancelled after Apollo 17 - only six more moon landings were to follow. In total, only 12 men belong to that elite group of individuals who have actually walked the surface of the moon.

Following that first moon landing, it seemed the sky was no longer the limit; many predicted that moon bases, galaxy travel - including voyages to Mars - and much more were to follow.

The technology developed was impressive, and most of the equipment that the huge Saturn rockets hoisted into space was designed to keep humans alive in a very hostile environment.

But little of what was thought to be the start of a new era in space travel, and of how humans could utilise space, has come to pass in any practical way - most of the day-to-day tasks can be completed more effectively and safely by robots.

Space has been best utilised as the home of satellites - now commonplace and taken for granted - giving us great advances in technology and an ability to access information that would have seemed impossible only a few decades ago.

Looking to the future, as we grow more dependent on communications, the battle will not be a race to reach the moon or Mars - it will be for control of the electromagnetic spectrum: cyberspace. This control, and the intelligence it provides, will become critical to national and international security; cyberspace is now a recognised battlespace for all major powers.

The main change brought about by the space programme was in our attitude to Earth and the vastness of the universe. Standing on its surface, the Earth seems enormous. Watching it rise above the horizon of the moon, however, it looks beautiful - but very, very small.

Lest We Forget - New Zealand Artillery Opens Fire In Vietnam
On July 16 1965, New Zealand Artillery opened fire for the first time in the Vietnam War when the 161 Battery - stationed at Bien Hoa air base near Saigon - opened fire on a Viet Cong position in support of the American 173rd Airborne Brigade.

From June 1964-December 1972, around 3,500 New Zealand military personnel served in South Vietnam - reaching its peak in 1968 when the New Zealand force numbered 543.

In total, 37 New Zealand personnel died on active service and 187 were wounded in Vietnam - the first war that New Zealand fought without our traditional ally Great Britain, reflecting our strengthening defence ties with the US and Australia.

Our involvement in Vietnam drew protest and condemnation here and abroad - and the then National Government was cautious in its approach. The first response was to send a New Zealand Civilian Surgical Team in 1963. Under continuing US pressure, this was followed in 1964 by 25 Army engineers to work on reconstruction projects like road and bridge building.

The decision to send combat forces was made in May 1965. The Royal New Zealand Artillery's 161 Battery was deployed to South Vietnam, replacing the Engineers in July, and initially placed under the command of the US 173rd Airborne Brigade at Bien Hoa. From June 1966 it served with Royal Australian Artillery field regiments at Nui Dat in Phuoc Tuy Province, east of Saigon, and remained in Vietnam until May 1971.


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