The Moon is Older than We Thought, says New Study

For decades, scientists have been of the belief that the Moon, Earth’s only natural satellite, was four and a half billion years old. According to this theory, the Moon was created from a fiery cataclysm produced by a collision between the Earth with a Mars-sized object (named Theia) roughly 100 million years after the formation of primordial Earth.

But according to a new study by researchers from UCLA (who re-examined some of the Apollo Moon Rocks), these estimates may have been off by about 40 to 140 million years. Far from simply adjusting our notions of the Moon’s proper age, these findings are also critical to our understanding of the Solar System and the formation and evolution of its rocky planets.

This study, titled “Early formation of the Moon 4.51 billion years ago“, was published recently in the journal Science Advances. Led by Melanie Barboni – a professor from the Department of Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences at UCLA – the research team conducted uranium-lead dating on fragments of the Moon rocks that were brought back by the Apollo 14 astronauts.

Artist’s concept of a collision that is believed to have taken place in the HD 172555 star system between a moon-sized object and a Mercury-sized planet. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

These fragments were of a compound known as zircon, a type of silicate mineral that contains trace amounts of radioactive elements (like uranium, thorium, and lutetium). As Kevin McKeegan, a UCLA professor of geochemistry and cosmochemistry and a co-author of the study, explained, “Zircons are nature’s best clocks. They are the best mineral in preserving geological history and revealing where they originated.”

By examining the radioactive decay of these elements, and correcting for cosmic ray exposure, the research team was able to get highly precise estimates of the zircon fragments ages. Using one of UCLA’s mass spectrometers, they were able to measure the rate at which the deposits of uranium in the zircon turned into lead, and the deposits of lutetium turned into hafnium.

In the end, their data indicated that the Moon formed about 4.51 billion years ago, which places its birth within the first 60 million years of the Solar System or so. Previously, dating Moon rocks proved difficult, mainly because most of them contained fragments of many different kinds of rocks, and these samples were determined to be tainted by the effects of multiple impacts.

However, Barboni and her team were able to examine eight zircons that were in good condition. More importantly, these silicate deposits are believed to have formed shortly after the collision between Earth and Theia, when the Moon was still an unsolidified mass covered in oceans of magma.  As these oceans gradually cooled, the Moon’s body became differentiated between its crust, mantle and core.

Zircon deposits found in the Moon rocks returned by the Apollo 17 mission. Credit: NASA//Nicholas E. Timms.

Because zircon minerals were formed during the initial magma ocean, uranium-lead dating reaches all the way back to a time before the Moon became a solidified mass. As Edward Young, a UCLA professor of geochemistry and cosmochemistry and a co-author of the study, put it, “Mélanie was very clever in figuring out the Moon’s real age dates back to its pre-history before it solidified, not to its solidification.”

These findings have not only determined the age of the Moon with a high degree of accuracy (and for the first time), it also has implications for our understanding of when and how rocky planes formed within the Solar System. By placing accurate dates on when certain bodies formed, we are able to understand the context in which they formed, which also helps to determine what mechanisms were involved.

And this was just the first revelation produced by the research team, which hopes to continue studying the zircon fragments to see what they can learn about the Moon’s early history.

Further Reading: UCLA

6th Man on Moon Edgar Mitchell, Dies at 85 on Eve of 45th Lunar Landing Anniversary

Apollo 14 astronaut crew, including Moonwalkers Alan B. Shepard Jr., mission commander (first) and Edgar D. Mitchell, lunar module pilot (last), and Stuart A. Roosa, command module pilot (middle) walk out to the astrovan bringing them to the launch pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.    Credit: Julian Leek
Apollo 14 astronaut crew, including Moonwalkers Alan B. Shepard Jr., mission commander (first) and Edgar D. Mitchell, lunar module pilot (last), and Stuart A. Roosa, command module pilot (middle) walk out to the astrovan bringing them to the launch pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Julian Leek

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – NASA astronaut Edgar Mitchell, the 6th man to walk on the Moon, passed away on Thursday, Feb. 4, on the eve of the 45th anniversary of his Apollo 14 mission lunar landing.

Mitchell passed away in West Palm Beach, Fla., just 1 day prior to the 45th anniversary of the Feb. 5, 1971 landing of Apollo 14’s Lunar Module “Antares.” Continue reading “6th Man on Moon Edgar Mitchell, Dies at 85 on Eve of 45th Lunar Landing Anniversary”

Stargazing Timelapse Plus Apollo 14 Launch Soundtrack Is Pure Magic

It feels like a real stargazing session watching this video. You head out at dusk, waiting for the first few stars to emerge. Then there’s a moment when — if you’re in the right spot — whammo. The Milky Way pops out. The sky turns into a three-dimensional playground.

Combine that feeling with the Apollo 14 launch audio from 1971, and this timelapse is a lot of fun.

Continue reading “Stargazing Timelapse Plus Apollo 14 Launch Soundtrack Is Pure Magic”

What Does The Apollo 11 Moon Landing Site Look Like Today?

Forty-five years ago yesterday, the Sea of Tranquility saw a brief flurry of activity when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin dared to disturb the ancient lunar dust. Now the site has lain quiet, untouched, for almost half a century. Are any traces of the astronauts still visible?

The answer is yes! Look at the picture above of the site taken in 2012, two years ago. Because erosion is a very gradual process on the moon — it generally takes millions of years for meteors and the sun’s activity to weather features away — the footprints of the Apollo 11 crew have a semi-immortality. That’s also true of the other five crews that made it to the moon’s surface.

In honor of the big anniversary, here are a few of NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s pictures of the landing sites of Apollo 11, Apollo 12, Apollo 14, Apollo 15, Apollo 16 and Apollo 17. (Apollo 13 was slated to land on the moon, but that was called off after an explosion in its service module.)

The Apollo 12 and Surveyor 3 landing sites in the Ocean of Storms on the moon. Visible is the descent stage of Intrepid (the lunar module) and the robotic craft Surveyor 3, which the astronauts took a sample from while they were on the surface. Also labelled are craters the astronauts visited. Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University
The Apollo 12 and Surveyor 3 landing sites in the Ocean of Storms on the moon. Visible is the descent stage of Intrepid (the lunar module) and the robotic craft Surveyor 3, which the astronauts took a sample from while they were on the surface. Also labelled are craters the astronauts visited. Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University
The Apollo 14 landing site imaged by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter in 2011. At right is the descent stage of Antares, the lunar module. At far left, beside the cart tracks and marked by an arrow, is the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiment Package. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University
The Apollo 14 landing site at Fra Mauro, imaged by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter in 2011. At right is the descent stage of Antares, the lunar module. At far left, beside the cart tracks and marked by an arrow, is the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiment Package. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University
The Apollo 15 landing site at Hadley plains, taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter from an altitude of 15.5 miles (25 kilometers) in 2012. Visible is the descent stage of Falcon (the lunar module), the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) and the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiment Package (ALSEP). The site is marked by rover tracks. Credit: NASA Goddard/Arizona State University
The Apollo 15 landing site at Hadley plains, taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter from an altitude of 15.5 miles (25 kilometers) in 2012. Visible is the descent stage of Falcon (the lunar module), the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) and the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiment Package (ALSEP). The site is marked by rover tracks. Credit: NASA Goddard/Arizona State University
The Apollo 16 landing site in the Descartes Highlands, taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter in 2010. Visible is the descent stage of Orion, the lunar module (LM), the "parking spot" of the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV), the Apollo Lunar Science Experiment Package (ALSEP), a radioisotope generator (RTG) and the geophone line, which is part of the mission's Active Seismic Experiment. Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Arizona State University
The Apollo 16 landing site in the Descartes Highlands, taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter in 2010. Visible is the descent stage of lunar module (LM) Orion, the “parking spot” of the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) and its tracks, the Apollo Lunar Science Experiment Package (ALSEP), a radioisotope generator (RTG) and the geophone line, which is part of the mission’s Active Seismic Experiment. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Arizona State University
The Apollo 17 landing site at Taurus-Littrow taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter in 2011. Visible is the descent stage of the lunar module Challenger, the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) and its tracks, the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiment Package (ALSEP) and Geophone Rock. Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/ASU
The Apollo 17 landing site at Taurus-Littrow taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter in 2011. Visible is the descent stage of the lunar module Challenger, the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) and its tracks, the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiment Package (ALSEP) and Geophone Rock. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/ASU

Watch All The Apollo Saturn V Rockets Blast Off At The Same Time

Editor’s note: We posted this yesterday only to find that the original video we used had been pulled. Now, we’ve reposted the article with a new and improved version of the video, thanks to Spacecraft Films.

To the moon! The goal people most remember from the Apollo program was setting foot on the surface of our closest neighbor. To get there required a heck of a lot of firepower, bundled in the Saturn V rocket. The video above gives you the unique treat of watching each rocket launch at the same time.

Some notes on the rockets you see:

  • Apollos 4 and 6 were uncrewed test flights.
  • Apollo 9 was an Earth-orbit flight to (principally) test the lunar module.
  • Apollo 8 and 10 were both flights around the moon (with no lunar landing).
  • Apollo 13 was originally scheduled to land on the moon but famously experienced a dangerous explosion that forced the astronauts to come back to Earth early — but safely.
  • Apollos 11, 12, 14, 15, 16 and 17 safely made it to the moon’s surface and back.
  • Skylab’s launch was also uncrewed; the Saturn V was used in this case to send a space station into Earth’s orbit that was used by three crews in the 1970s.
  • You don’t see Apollo 7 pictured here because it did not use the Saturn V rocket; it instead used the Saturn IB. It was an Earth-orbiting flight and the first successful manned one of the Apollo program. (Apollo 1 was the first scheduled crew, but the three men died in a launch pad fire.)

And if this isn’t enough firepower for you, how about all 135 space shuttle launches at the same time?

Read more about the Saturn V at NASA and the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

(h/t Sploid)

All Saturn V Launches At Once from Spacecraft Films on Vimeo.

Book Review and Giveaway: Earthrise: My Adventures As An Apollo 14 Astronaut by Edgar Mitchell

Book review by David Freiberg: Universe Today Book Reviewer

Most of us get up in the morning, shower, eat breakfast and sleepily make our way to work. Whether we work in an office, outdoors, with the public or in any number of exciting Earth-based careers, our daily commute can hardly compare to that of a moon astronaut! In Earthrise: My Adventures As An Apollo 14 Astronaut, Edgar Mitchell shares his personal story of how he came to share a career with a scarce 11 other people in history.

This new book tells the story Mitchell’s life; he started out as a farm boy from a small town in New Mexico who grew up in a normal family and lived a normal life but he worked hard enough and got lucky enough to go to the Moon. He wasn’t born into it, and he wasn’t so supremely gifted that he aced everything he tried in his life. He had the willpower to work through years of training, and he had the courage to get into a gigantic rocket that would launch him a quarter of a million miles through space, even though the last people who had tried to go to the Moon were lucky to get back alive.

And, being a real person doing an extraordinary thing, he came back changed by the experience.

Despite the trials and tribulations of training, of flying there, of a close call with a malfunctioning “abort” button, and of the moonwalk itself, Edgar details how the ride home was the most life-changing part of the entire journey. As he saw the Earth shining in front of him, he described a sensation he called metanoia that was to shape the rest of his life. He’d explored as much of outer space as current technology would allow: now he wanted to do the opposite and explore the mind. Though he’d always been interested in topics like ESP (he even conducted his own ESP experiment with a few doctors on Earth during the mission), it was easy to see how it changed his perspective on everything. And, from his descriptions, he’s not the only Apollo astronaut to have a different perspective on life after the mission: they were real people, after all, and if you went to the Moon, you’d probably be changed as well.

That’s where “Earthrise” really shines: you get the idea that you too could do the same thing if you were willing to work for it. This book is strongly recommended for all children who are interested in space; as Edgar Mitchell was inspired by stories of Roswell and of Buck Rogers when he was young, perhaps a child who reads this very book will someday fly around the Moon and watch the Earth come up.

About the authors: Dr. Edgar Mitchell was a pilot in the historic 1971 Apollo 14 mission and the sixth man to ever walk on the Moon. He is the author of “Paradigm Shift,” “The Space Less Traveled,” and “The Way of the Explorer,” and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the NASA Distinguished Service Medal, three NASA Group Achievement Awards and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005. He is the founder of the renowned Institute of Noetic Sciences and lives in Lake Worth, Florida. Ellen Mahoney has worked for Walt Disney Imagineering and produced radio features for the BBC Science in Action show. She is an instructor of journalism at Metro State University of Denver and lives in Boulder, Colorado. Dr. Brian Cox is a professor of particle physics at the University of Manchester School of Physics and Astronomy, Manchester, England. He presents space and science programs on BBC radio and television, including “Wonders of the Universe.”

Universe Today and Chicago Review Press are pleased to be able to offer three free copies of “Earthrise: My Adventures as An Apollo 14 Astronaut” to our readers. This contest is open to US and Canadian residents only. In order to be entered into the giveaway drawing, just put your email address into the box at the bottom of this post (where it says “Enter the Giveaway”) before Wednesday, April 30, 2014. If this is the first time you’re registering for a giveaway, you’ll receive a confirmation email immediately where you’ll need to click a link to be entered into the drawing. For those who have registered previously, you’ll receive an email later where you can enter this drawing.

If you are not lucky enough to win one of our three free copies, or if you don’t want to wait, you can purchase the book from Amazon.com.

Moonwalker’s Golf Club Now Hanging Out In New Jersey Museum

During that heady time when NASA was sending people to the moon, Apollo astronaut Al Shepard — so the story goes — was showing comedian Bob Hope around a NASA center. Hope went into a simulator for the lighter lunar gravity and swung a golf club around (a habit of his) as he bounced around.

“That was the inspiration, I guess,” said Michael Trostel, the curator and historian at the United States Golf Association Museum in Far Hills, New Jersey. In other words, the inspiration for Al Shepard to bring a golf club to the moon and hit a couple of balls. The golf club, in fact, is at the USGA Museum today.

Of course, it wasn’t so easy just to bring a six-iron on board — there were science experiments and other payloads for the Apollo 14 crew. According to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, the golf club was actually “a contingency sample extension handle with a No. 6 iron golf club head attached.”

Unusually, as space artifacts tend to head over to the Smithsonian after missions, this particular one ended up at the USGA Museum itself. In 1972, when singer Bing Crosby (also a friend of Hope’s and Shepard’s) was a member of the board, he wrote to Shepard on behalf of the museum and asked for the club. Shepard agreed and handed it over during a special ceremony in 1974.

“The reason that it’s not in this museum was that it was personal property of Alan Shepherd. In other words, he took it to space, he brought it back, it was still his personal property he donated it and it was his. That’s the reason,” said Claire Brown, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s communications director.

“Things were a little different back then. You could take a certain amount of personal property. There are different rules now, but at the time that he did it, he was able to bring his own personal club.”

A close-up of the golf club used by Apollo 14 astronaut Al Shepard on the moon. Credit: USGA/USGA Museum
A close-up of the golf club used by Apollo 14 astronaut Al Shepard on the moon. Credit: USGA/USGA Museum

The Moon Trees of Apollo 14

On this day in 1971 Apollo 14 astronauts Alan Shepard, Jr., Stuart Roosa and Edgar Mitchell returned to Earth, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean at 21:05 UT (4:05 p.m. EST). They were recovered by the USS New Orleans, and returned to the U.S. by way of American Samoa. But the three men weren’t the only living creatures to come back from the Moon on Feb. 9, 1971… in fact, human astronauts were in the minority that day.

Al, Stu and Ed shared their lunar voyage with nearly 500 trees.

As Shepard and Mitchell gathered samples near their landing site in a region named Fra Mauro, Apollo 14 pilot and ex-smoke jumper Stuart Roosa orbited above in “Kitty Hawk”, the mission’s Command Module. It may sound like a lonely job, but he was far from alone. Within his personal kit were small containers containing 400-500 seeds, part of a joint NASA/USFS project to examine the effects, if any, of space travel on such organisms.

The seeds were selected from a variety of tree species: redwood, loblolly pine, sycamore, Douglas fir, and sweetgum seeds were all chosen to accompany Roosa on his 34 orbits around the Moon.

A control group of the same seed varieties were kept on Earth for comparison.

Stuart Roosa had worked for the Forest Service in the 1950s before becoming an Air Force test pilot and then eventually an Apollo astronaut. Being charged with the care of the seeds was a particularly symbolic assignment for Roosa, who had once fought wildfires as a smoke jumper.

Even though there was a mishap during the decontamination process after return to Earth, wherein some containers burst open and seeds were inadvertently mixed together, many of the seeds successfully germinated at Forest Service stations in Mississippi and California. The seedlings were eventually sent to locations around the country and around the world to commemorate the success of the Apollo program.

There was even a second generation, called half-moon trees.

A Moon Tree located outside Goddard Space Flight Center. (GSFC)

Many of these “Moon Trees” and their descendants still stand today. In some instances they are marked with a plaque or a sign… in others, no special marking denotes their significance. Those unmarked trees stand as silent reminders of an earlier and perhaps even bolder era of human space flight.

Me, Heather Archuletta, and Greg ___ in front of a 2nd-generation Moon Tree outside the Holliston Police Department in Massachusetts. (© Jason Major)
Me, Heather Archuletta, and Greg Riley in front of a 2nd-generation Moon Tree outside the Holliston Police Department in Massachusetts, Oct. 2013. (© Jason Major)

Read more about the Moon Trees on this page by David Williams of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. And if you know of a Moon Tree that is not on Mr. William’s list, please contact him to have it included. Williams has endeavored to locate the whereabouts and status of these trees since 1996, as there had been no systematic records previously kept of them.

“I think when people are aware of the heritage of the trees, they usually take steps to preserve them,” said Williams in recollection of one tree that was nearly knocked down during a building renovation. “But sometimes people aren’t aware. That’s why we want to locate as many as we can soon. We want to have a record that these trees are — or were — a part of these communities, before they’re gone.”

America vs. Astronaut: The Case of the Lifted Lunar Camera

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Imagine you’re an astronaut. You have what it takes to be selected to fly a mission to the Moon. You train, make the trip, and become one of literally a handful of humans ever to have walked on the lunar surface. And when you leave the desolate beauty of the Moon behind in your Landing Module, and are just about to re-enter the Lunar Orbiter and head for home, you see one of the cameras that you used on the surface. If you leave it where it is it’s going to be lost forever, crashing into the lunar surface with the rest of the lander. If you take it, you’ll be going against standard NASA operating procedure since you hadn’t filled out the proper paperwork beforehand for official mission items appropriated by astronauts. Leave a piece of history behind to be destroyed or salvage it as a souvenir… what do you do?

Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell decided to bring the camera back, and now, 40 years later, his decision is going to land him in court.

Last June, the U.S. government brought a case against the 81-year-old moonwalker after he offered the 16-millimeter Data Acquisition Camera (DAC) up for sale at New York’s Bonhams auction house as part of their May “Space History Sale”. While it was common for Apollo astronauts to be able to keep various pieces of equipment and space suits as mementos after their missions, certain paperwork had to be filled out beforehand… it’s just the NASA way.

The late Donald “Deke” Slayton, head of the astronaut corps in 1971, mentioned this during an interview with the Tuscon Daily Citizen in 1972.

“They give me a list of things they’re going to bring back,” Slayton said. “I give it to the program office and they bring ’em back.”

This Data Acquisition Camera (DAC) was one of two 16mm cameras on the Apollo 14 lunar module "Antares" when it landed on the moon on Feb, 5, 1971. Credit: Bonhams.

The DAC, it seems, was not on any lists handed in by Mitchell. Yet it was never intended to be on the ride back to Earth, either. Rather its destination was to be in the bottom of a crater made by the landing module when it crashed back onto the Moon.

Must have seemed a rather wasteful end for a historic – and valuable – piece of equipment. Were it to go to auction it could have fetched between $60,000 to $80,000.

“We had an agreement with NASA management, that small items that didn’t exceed our weight limitations, we could bring back.”

– Edgar Mitchell to WPTV

Regardless of its value – sentimental or otherwise – NASA’s lawyer claims that Mitchell was contacted several times about returning the camera but never responded. Mitchell’s attorney, on the other hand, argues that too many years have passed for NASA to now claim the camera as stolen property.

When it was brought before a Florida district court judge to have the case dismissed, however, the judge had no option but to side with the government.

“‘It is well settled that the United States is not bound by state statutes of limitation or subject to the defense of laches in enforcing its rights,'” quoted Judge Daniel Hurley of an appeals court ruling. “Defendant’s allegations that NASA intended the camera to be destroyed after the mission or that it routinely awarded used mission equipment to astronauts do not preclude as a matter of law Plaintiff’s contrary allegation that Defendant impermissibly converted the camera.”

Bottom line: the case goes in front of a jury in October 2012.

Read more about this on collectSPACE.com.

50th Anniversary Ceremony Recreates First US Manned Spaceflight by Alan Shepard

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NASA celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first American manned spaceflight at a special ceremony on May 5, 2011 which recreated every moment of that short suborbital flight by the late Mercury astronaut Alan B. Shepard. The event unfolded from the very spot and launch pad 5/6 where he blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida on May 5, 1961.

Shepard’s entire 15 ½ minute suborbital spaceflight aboard the “Freedom 7” capsule was replayed in a multimedia audio and video presentation that was projected on a Jumbotron erected off to the side of an 82 foot tall replica of his Mercury-Redstone 3 rocket.

Three daughters of Alan Shepard (Laura Churchley, Julie Jenkins and Alice Wackermann) pose in front of 82-foot- tall replica of Mercury-Redstone rocket which Shepard rode to space 50 years ago. Credit: Ken Kremer

The recreation was precisely timed to coincide with the exact events of the historic mission from the launch at 9:34 a.m. to the ocean splashdown some 15 minutes later at 9:49 a.m. just as they occurred 40 years ago on May 5, 1961.

The multimedia replay began at the T minus 5 minute mark in the countdown with restored voice tapes and film footage and included every single word spoken by Shepard, live views from inside his “Freedom 7” capsule, shots of the Earth below, the spaceship descending by parachute and the naval recovery vessels.

The memorial event took place at Alan Shepard’s launch pad at Cape Canaveral to recall and honor the results and legacy of the flight.

Fellow “Original 7” Mercury astronaut Scott Carpenter did a lively play by play commentary of all the events of Shepard’s flight as it was broadcast on the Jumbotron. Carpenter was the 2nd American to orbit the Earth after John Glenn.

A crowd of more than 700 folks attended including top NASA officials and spaceflight dignitaries; NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana, fellow Mercury astronaut Scott Carpenter; 20 members of Shepard ‘s family including his three daughters; Jack King, former chief of NASA’s Public Information Office; Bob Moser, former Chief Test Conductor, many people who worked on Project Mercury, Florida Space Coast community leaders as well as numerous space exploration fans who journeyed here from all across the globe.

Apollo 16 Moonwalker Charlie Duke, a friend and colleague of Shepard was also on hand for the festivities.

Speakers at the May 5, 2011 celebration marking the 50th Anniversary of Alan Shepard’s first flight in space from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, on May 5, 1961. Credit: Ken Kremer

“In the audience today, we have more than 100 workers from the Mercury era who devoted their lives to flying humans safely in space,” said Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana.

“You should be extremely proud of what you did for our country and for humankind,” Cabana added, as he asked them to stand and be applauded and thanked for their service by the audience.

The 50th anniversary commemoration was sponsored by NASA and local space historians and community officials.

“I remember every time he spoke, he always gave credit to everyone in NASA who built the good ships that brought him home to us safely,” said Shepard’s daughter Laura Churchley. “We thank you all very much.”

“To me — and I’ve gone through hundreds of launches and done countdowns in hundreds of launches — the first is always very special,” said Jack King. “I must admit, it’s the only one when I was misty-eyed. The first American in space! I couldn’t be prouder. And I couldn’t be prouder for being a part of it.”

Project Mercury Astronaut Scott Carpenter and Hugh Harris, Shepard event organizer and NASA shuttle launch commentator. Carpenter is one of only two surviving “Original 7” Mercury astronauts.
Credit: Ken Kremer

The ceremony was organized by Hugh Harris, retired NASA space shuttle Launch commentator, and longtime NBC Newsman Jay Barbree who is the only journalist to cover every American manned space mission.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden salutes Alan Shepard and all the space workers who made Shepard’s historic mission possible at the 50th anniversary event on May 5, 2011 celebrating this milestone achievement in human history. Credit: Ken Kremer
“It’s an honor to share this day with so many people who helped NASA pioneer human spaceflight and enable the agency’s many accomplishments throughout our existence,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. “I salute all of you.”

Shepard’s flight blasted off barely three weeks after Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to orbit the Earth on April 12, 1961.

The successful outcome of Shepard’s mission emboldened then President Kennedy to declare that America “should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth,” just three weeks later on May 20, 1961.

Alan Shepard later became the fifth human to set foot on the Moon as Commander of the Apollo 14 mission. Apollo 14 blasted off on Jan. 31, 1971.

Shepard was the only member of the “Original 7” Mercury astronauts to walk on the moon and did so along with Lunar Module Pilot Edgar Mitchell. They touched down in the Fra Mauro region originally intended as the landing site for Apollo 13.

Kudos to Harris and Barbree for an outstanding effort taking everyone back in time and staging a thrilling “You are There!” experience to relive the events as they unfolded 50 years ago.

Read my related articles about Alan Shepard, Yuri Gagarin and the 50th Anniversary of Human Spaceflight:
Alan Shepard and MESSENGER Stamps Unveiled at Kennedy Space Center Ceremony
Yuri Gagarin and Vostok 1 Photo Album – 50th Anniversary of Human Spaceflight
Countdown to Yuri’s Night and the 50th Anniversary of Human Spaceflight !
Stirring Video Tributes to Yuri Gagarin
Yuri Gagarin From the Earth to Mars Tribute

Over 100 space workers from the Mercury era attended the Alan Shepard ceremony and posed for a group photo on the 50th anniversary of the historic flight. Credit: Ken Kremer
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Ken Kremer
chat following the 50th Anniversary memorial event recreating Alan Shepard’s first manned spaceflight by an American astronaut. Bolden is a former astronaut and flew 4 times on the Space Shuttle and helped deploy the Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: Ken Kremer
Apollo 16 Moonwalker Charlie Duke and Ken Kremer speak at Alan Shepard ceremony.
Credit: Ken Kremer
82-foot- tall replica of Mercury-Redstone rocket which blasted Alan Shepard to space 50 years ago on May 5, 1961 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Credit: Ken Kremer