Chances are, you know where you were exactly 50 years ago as today marks 50 years since man landed on the moon. The date was the 20th July 1969 however with the time zone difference it was the 21st July in New Zealand, it was a Monday. John Rowe, one of Stardome Observatory Astronomy Educators remembers it well.
“I was at primary school sitting in class. In those days there were radio speakers mounted above the blackboards at the front of the rooms. We were all listening live as Neil Armstrong descended from the lander. It was Monday 21st in New Zealand. He stepped onto the moon at 4 minutes to 3pm. It was so exciting but disappointing at the same time because (as we all know) the sound was accompanied by static and we didn’t really know the foot was on the ground until the teacher told us that it had happened. Lucky it didn’t take a few minutes later as the bell would’ve gone and there might have been a stampede and I’d have properly missed it.”
He stepped onto the moon at 4 minutes to 3pm.
Rowe’s interest in astronomy began in the 1960’s at the age of 8 where he found a book in his school library called “Exploring the Planets”. This was during the race for the moon, an inspiring time to be growing up.
Although Rowe’s career didn’t initially take him in to astronomy, his interest was rekindled in his 30’s and in 2011 Rowe joined the Auckland Astronomical Society (AAS). In 2012 Rowe became a volunteer at Stardome, for 3 years he ran the EWB Zeiss telescope public sessions. Today Rowe is one of Stardome’s Astronomy Educators and a part time programmes presenter.
Space gives us that opportunity for curiosity on an enormous scale.
Space and astronomy still captivates many today, Rowe included. “I think just the awesome mystery of it. We’ve learned so much but there is still so much more to learn. The Universe is of unimaginable scale and beauty (to quote a planetarium movie). It’s dynamic and also incredibly violent. We may even be unique on this tiny mote of dust that we call Earth – the only haven for life that we so far know about. I think most humans have an innate curiosity as well… a desire to know what lies around the corner. Space gives us that opportunity for curiosity on an enormous scale.”
Space travel truly changed the possibilities of humankind and this is not lost on Rowe. Space travel required many new technologies which many of us use on a daily basis. “Most are taken for granted and not even linked to space research in our minds – from medical equipment to running shoes. I suppose the most obvious is GPS. An incredible amount of Earth Science is being done today with the use of satellites. Going into space enables us to study Earth from a perspective impossible if we didn’t have a presence there. I love the fact that we are sending ever more clever ‘robotic’ spacecraft to other worlds. Telescope technology is improving all the time as well.”
While it is wonderful to reflect on the last 50 years, it is a good reminder we can visit observatories across the country and world today, Stardome included. Astronomers and enthusiasts love to impart their knowledge so you’re sure to learn something new. For now, don’t forget to tell your grandchildren about where you were and remember to look up to the sky every now and then to reflect on the wondrous event that was man walking on the moon.