On July 20, 1969, the Apollo 11 spacecraft landed on the moon. I was in high school in Germany at the time. We were released from class to go home for lunch and listen to the landing on the AFN (Armed Forces Network) radio. It was so exciting to listen to the landing. We talked about it for several days afterwards.
When I was in school, Pluto was still recognized as the ninth planet. Now, there is a question over whether Pluto is a planet or not. In 2003, an astronomer located a star beyond Pluto and named it Eris. This led to a debate about what makes a planet a planet. Today, Pluto is called a dwarf planet because of its size. If you want to know more about Pluto, you can check out the information available at www.nasa.gov.
While you are looking into Pluto, you might want to read up on the New Horizon project. Launched nearly nine years ago, New Horizon has been in hibernation for the longest space flight in history. On December 6th, the New Horizon vehicle was activated so that it could explore Pluto. It is expected to start the exploration of Pluto in 2015. It is currently more than 162 million miles away. You can read more at http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/.
The truth is, I never liked science before the moon landing. And, honestly, I did not think too much about science after that; that is, until the Hubble Telescope was launched in 1990.
Hubble is a huge telescope that takes pictures of space. When it was first launched, there was a problem with the mirror on the telescope and the pictures were fuzzy. A Space Shuttle mission was organized and they fixed the mirror. Now the images are spectacular. You can see a whole gallery of pictures at http://hubblesite.org/gallery/album/. They update the site with the best pictures so you can see some amazing images and learn more about the telescope and its mission.
Now I read everything I can about space, stars, planets, and moons. It was very exciting to move to the Athens area and have access to the Huntsville Space and Rocket Center and the NASA channel. If you have not made the trip over, it is a great way to spend an afternoon, or even a whole day. The Rocket Center is a Smithsonian affiliate and the official NASA visitors’ site. It has the largest collection of space memorabilia in its permanent exhibits. There are also theaters where you can see digital explorations of space and stars. In addition, they have special exhibits like the 101 Inventions that Changed the World. From stone tools to the Internet, you can learn about the inventions that changed our lives. This exhibit is going on until March 2015.
The newest thing on the NASA channel is the Orion Spacecraft. Orion is meant to be a manned deep space exploration craft. NASA is just beginning to test the craft. You may have read about the recovery of the capsule recently. You can learn lots more about Orion at www.nasa.gov.
So many things happen in our lifetime. Ancient explorers looked to the stars and were amazed. Today we forget to look up. There are meteor showers, comets, stars, and planets. While we are having longer nights, take a few minutes to look at the stars.
Center for Lifelong Learning – 121 South Marion Street, Athens, AL 35611 – 256-233-8262
By: Wanda Campbell