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BBC The Planets Moon

in the early 60's there were three theories about where the Moon might have come from On the 12th of September 1959, the young rocketeers of the Soviet space program were secretly preparing to launch a probe called Lunik 2. Its destination was the Moon. If it reached its goal, this would be the first time man had touched another world. Just forty years ago, little was known about the Moon. What was it made of? Did it harbor life? And how did it come to be formed? The answers came from the hostility of the Cold War. The race to the Moon was a showdown between two superpowers intent on proving their supremacy. But it also became the greatest voyage of scientific discovery in history. It began with Lunik 2. The Soviets had mastered all that technical know-how to build the probe. But to score the propaganda coup of reaching the Moon first, there was one thing they lacked - they had no means of tracking Lunik all the way. No way to prove they'd really got there. This was the challenge that faced one of Lunik's chief engineers, Boris Chertok. The Soviets sent a covert message to Jodrell Bank, near Manchester, the only place in the world which could track a probe so far away in space. Its director was Bernard Lovell. To my astonishment, I found on the telex machine a long message from Moscow, giving complete details, not only the transmission frequencies of this Lunik, but also its position, calculated from there for the latitude and longitude of Jodrell Bank - and this, of course, is a clear indication we were meant to do something about it. So we sprang into action. We immediately found the "bleep-bleep" of the Lunik in exactly the position Russians stated. And this indicated the Lunik was destined for the Moon. The impact was, I recall, I think 2 minutes, 23 seconds past ten o'clock, when Lunik hit the Moon and the signal suddenly ceased. There was, of course, uproar from the press because it was realized the Russians had achieved a remarkable degree of technological expertise in doing this. The timing was perfect. A week later Nikita Khrushchev became the first Soviet premier to visit America. He took a replica of the Lunik probe with him. On April 12th 1961, the Soviets put their supremacy beyond doubt. Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space. Enough was enough. America's new president needed to make his own grand gesture. "The eyes of the world now look into space, to the Moon and to the planets beyond. And we have vowed that we shall not see it governed by a hostile flag of conquest, but by a banner of freedom and peace. We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things. Not because they are easy, but because they are hard." Khrushchev had to decide whether to race the Americans to the Moon. He summoned his generals to a meeting at a secret location in Georgia. The meeting was captured on film by Khrushchev's son, Sergei, himself a rocket scientist. And then I saw an ad in a magazine. I wrote that application to it and gave it to her. It was late at night. And she said: "What's this about?" said, "Well, that's a company that doing something on the Moon with NASA." She said, "Well, you don't know anything about the Moon!" Said, "Yes, but one more letter's not gonna hurt." But anyway I convinced her. She wrote that letter. And that was number 121, from which I got the first response.' To scientists on both sides, the Moon suddenly seemed much closer. Geologists like Alexander Basilevsky had a new sense of purpose. Our group was selecting landing sites on the Moon. And it was very intensive work. We worked day and night. We looked on images, we counted craters, and we counted rocks. And engineers grabbed data from us, because they used this data for design, for computer simulation of landing and so on. That was a beautiful time. It was probably first time in my life when something which I was doing was necessary to other people. It was crucially necessary for them. At that time what knowledge we had of the Moon was fragmentary but tantalizing. Telescopes had revealed bright highlands, called mountains, and dark basins, called seas. There were round craters that looked like the tops of volcanoes. But how old it was, what it was made of, how it came to be, all this remained a mystery. Scientists hoped that samples of rock brought back from the Moon would provide the answers. One of them was William Hartmann. First one was that the Earth and the Moon had just grown side by side, had been close together the whole time. Then there was another theory that, well maybe, the Moon just formed in some entirely different place in the solar system. And later on it came in and got captured into orbit around the Earth. So then there was the third theory that maybe the Earth was spinning so fast that it spun the Moon off. And the Moon just sort of flew off like a drop of water off a spinning ball. The first fresh insights came from the missions to look for landing sites for the astronauts. The Ranger probes were dispatched kamikaze-style, sending back close-up pictures of the Moon as they smashed into its surface. The first images showed something that almost no one had expected. And that is that at every scale, the Moon was covered with craters - not just the big craters that astronomers had seen before and thought were volcanoes, but smaller craters, craters everywhere, craters that couldn't possibly be volcanic. And the only thing that could make craters and pits of those different sizes was probably meteors falling onto the lunar surface, and leaving their scars on the surface. Ranger transformed ideas about the Moon. This was a cold, lifeless world, battered by meteorites. It still wasn't clear what it was made of, or even if it was hard enough for a man to walk on. Then came the next Soviet triumph. Luna 9 touched down safely on firm ground. And the little probe had another surprise in store. When Luna 9 hit the Moon, of course the signals ceased abruptly. And we thought that was the end of the affair. But to our astonishment the signals reappeared. And this was facsimile transmission, which at those days was used for transmitting photographs by newspapers. But of course we had no facsimile machine. But very fortunately it was the Daily Express who responded and immediately sent out the necessary equipment. And to our utter amazement, we saw before our eyes the astonishing thing - actually rocks of the Moon appearing. These were the first pictures transmitted from the Moon. The pictures were rushed to press. The scoop of the century nearly caused an international incident. Next day was a big scandal in our newspapers. Meanwhile Farouk El-Baz was training the first astronauts who would walk on this world. They were fighter pilots, they had no training in geology, so to get these pilots to think like geologists and behave like geologists, and we knew that we had to train them well. High in the volcanic mountains of Arizona, a little piece of the Moon was recreated on Earth. This field of craters, seen from the air, precisely matches a view of the Sea of Tranquillity on the Moon. My role was really to teach them how to make observations from orbit. For instance, right here, at this crater site, to the field and so they can see it, and then would take them in a Cessna aircraft, close to the ground, and fly over to see what they can see from orbit. And then we'd take them in a T-38, flying at 25,000 feet high. And with the T-38 it simulates the exact speed of the spacecraft over the Moon. As they disappeared behind its edge, they lost all contact with Earth. Never before had humans been so isolated. For the first time, the Americans had taken the initiative in the race to the Moon. Sergei Khrushchev can reveal that the race need not have been so hostile. President Kennedy twice approached my father with the idea to join efforts in the Moon. First time it was in June, 1961, in Vienna. And my father rejected, because he thought it can hurt our military security. Then, the second time it was in autumn 1963. And my father was ready to accept this invitation. He told that will be very important, we will save money, we will maybe gain politically and technically. So it was possible there will be one American astronaut, for example Neil Armstrong, on the Moon, and second will be Yuri Gagarin. But soon (the) American president was assassinated, and (the) new president never repeated the invitation to the Moon. It was not long before Khrushchev himself was ousted. The two leaders who had begun the race would play no part in the final drive for the Moon. The Soviets had one final hope of upstaging their rivals. They prepared Luna 15, a robot that could land on the Moon scoop up soil, and return it to Earth automatically. Perhaps they could solve the Moon's mysteries without risking any lives. The Soviets saw the opportunity of a break coup, and getting the rock back automatically, without endangering lives. After all, if the Americans lost lives at that stage, then the repercussions would be tremendous. This is Apollo Saturn launch control. Countdown for Apollo 11, to fly to land the first man on the Moon. In July 1969, both sides prepared for lift-off. Luna 15 was first of the launch pack. We have lift-off. Just three days later, Apollo 11 joined the chase. Tower clear at 13 seconds. Once again Jodrell Bank was listening. We were tracking Luna 15. And to our surprise, the signals abruptly ceased, and it became clear quite soon that this Lunik had crashed onto the lunar surface. I'm to step off to the LEM. That's one small step for man... one giant leap for mankind. Tell me if you've got a picture, Houston. You're going too fast on the panorama sweeps. You've got to stop for a ... That's the first picture on the panorama. When Luna 15 crashed on the Moon, and we knew that Apollo 11 landed safely, and they are bringing samples, it was a complicated feeling, it was a mixture of jealousy and disappointment. But we still were very strong, and we understand that we can do this the second, third time. But we're not the first. Beautiful view. Isn't that something? Magnificent desolation. The astronauts began gathering samples of moon rock to bring back to Earth. But that looks beautiful from here, Neil. We'll get to the details of what's around here. But it looks like a collection of just about every variety of shape, angularity, granularity, and every variety of rock you could find. In the Soviet Union, the inquest into the Luna 15 failure had already begun. With most of the team away from Moscow, one of the few people left was a scientist who had made maps of the lunar surface, Natalya Bobina. Three men and their precious cargo of 21 kilos of moon rock had returned to Earth. Apollo 11, Apollo 11 this is Hornet, over. Scientists could hardly wait to get their hands on the samples. Geologist Harrison Schmitt was more impatient than most. He was one of six civilian scientists selected for astronaut training. Their hopes of flying to the Moon weren't high. But Schmitt had made understanding lunar geology his own personal crusade. It was an excruciating period, actually having to wait in order to get your hands on the rocks. It was a mixture of joy that we had accomplished what we'd set out to do, and anticipation because we now had something really to work on, to begin that process of understanding the Moon, its ages, how it had formed and what it meant to us here on Earth. The Moon rock was almost identical to the most basic kind of rock on Earth It was basalt, which forms when molten rock from inside a planet seeps through the surface, then cools and solidifies. The first rocks turned out to be 3.9 billion years old, and that was older than most people had suspected. And so, as we went through these really spectacular rocks, you know, we were learning for the first time what the Moon is all about. Soon after the Soviets' second attempt at a moon-scooper brought back a few grams of soil from a different part of the Moon. The early missions provided the first evidence for scientists trying to understand how the Moon had formed. Had it grown alongside Earth, or been spun off by the young planet? Or had it formed elsewhere and been captured by Earth's gravity? When we got the rocks back from the Moon, we saw that the isotopes of oxygen in the lunar rocks were the same as on the Earth. Now the reason is as important as that we have meteorites from other parts of the solar system and each other part of the solar system has a different composition of these oxygen isotopes - ratio of one type of isotope to the other. The Moon has exactly the same as the Earth. So that seemed to rule out the idea that the Moon had formed far away. And it made it much more plausible that the Moon was something made out of the same material that the Earth was made out of. But if the Moon was made from the same stuff as Earth, there were still puzzling differences. Jay Melosh was one of a team of scientist struggling to make sense of it all. There's not a single molecule of water as far as we can tell on any of the lunar rocks. And that kind of amazing fact strongly supported the idea that the Moon must have come from someplace else. If it had been spun out early in the Earth's history or grown together with the Earth, you'd expect to have water in it. And yet other facts suggested that the Moon could not possibly have come from somewhere else. That kind of conflict among facts was what led scientists to very confuse at that time about the origin of the Moon. Scientists weren't helped by the fact that all the rocks returned so far were basalt - rock that had once been molten and flowed through cracks in the Moon's ancient surface. No astronaut had yet found a piece of the original surface itself, primordial moon rock that might cast new light on the Moon's formation.


  BBC The Planets Moon in the early 60's there were three theories about where the Moon might have come from
 
Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan
Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan
  Working with the astronauts
Working with the astronauts
  Discovering the origin of the Moon became the stated scientific goal of the American lunar program
Discovering the origin of the Moon became the stated scientific goal of the American lunar program
  The lunar rocks is they are so dry
The lunar rocks is they are so dry
 
If ever a geologist was needed on the Moon, it was now. Apollo 15 was built as "the big science mission." I was assigned to a back-up crew for Apollo 15. And that began a process that looked like I might have a chance to go to the Moon. But then, soon after that, missions began to be cancelled. Apollo 20 cancelled, 19... And then Apollo 18 was cancelled. And so it began to look like the chances were getting small. And so, my anticipation of flying a mission was not very great at that time. Apollo 15's goal was to find a piece of the Moon's original surface. Scientists predicted it would be paler than the basalt and made of larger crystals. Oh, boy, it's beautiful here! Look at that rile. It's a beautiful geology out here. Hadley Rille - a gigantic canyon a mile wide. Jim, why don't you hop on? Take care. Let me get your seat-belt. We're going get moving'. Look at this baby climb the hill. Boy, this is travelling! Astronauts Scott and Irwin travelled farther afield than anyone else. I can't believe we came over those mountains. We did. This is a beautiful little valley. Those are pretty big mountains to fly over. They set to their task of finding a piece of the Moon's original surface. Look at that! Look at the glint! I can almost see twinning in there. Guess what we just found. Guess what we just found. I think we found what we came for. Crystalline rock, huh? Yes, sir! Joe, this crater is a gold mine. There might be diamonds in the next one. Scott and Irwin had found a piece of rock sparkling with mineral crystals. Let me take a picture. It was as old as the Earth, 4.5 billion years. And it came to be known as the Genesis Rock. It was not basalt, but anorthosite, a much more complex rock. Geologists knew that the only way this rock could have formed was if the Moon had once been completely molten. But a body as small and cold as our moon should never have been that hot. The Moon's birth grew ever more puzzling. But the Genesis Rock was almost overshadowed by another discovery. From orbit, Al Worden spotted what looked like cinder cones - the tops of volcanoes. OK, I'm looking right down on Littrow now and a very interesting thing. Looks like a whole field of cinder cones down there. He had absorbed my instruction and all of the training.
So he wanted to let me know. And his observations from orbit resulted in the selection of the Apollo 17 site, and that is a real proof that the observations by an astronaut could make a real difference. If these were fresh volcanoes, could it be that the Moon was still an active world? Apollo 17 was the final mission. On board was Harrison Schmitt, the only scientist ever to fly to the Moon. Challenger, go for landing. Feel is good. Stand by for touchdown. Stand by. Down in two. Feels good. Twenty feet. Going down in two. Ten feet. Ten feet. Got contact. He landed in the Taurus Littrow Valley, the site of the cinder cones spotted from Apollo 15. The beauty of the place was certainly not lost on me. But once you're there, you sort of slip into the mode of being a field geologist. And it's your profession. You've got three days to practice it at this very remarkable location, beautiful location. And so you go out at it. On their second field trip, Schmitt and Cernan made their way to a crater called Shorty. It was 5 km from base, and they were running dangerously short of time. We don't have that much time. I know, Bob, I know. By the time we arrived at Shorty, we knew it was going to be a short stop. Half an hour really is all we had, because of our oxygen supply. Thatís 29 minutes from now, but remembers they left a little bit late. We had anticipated though that we might see something exciting there, and in the event that this was a volcanic crater. So I headed over to the edge of the crater. And on the way I scuffed up some orange-looking material, and that's when the whole excitement started. There's orange soil! It's all over! That's a volcanic vent! I can see it from here. It's orange. The orange soil looked like evidence of recent volcanic activity. So the Moon then grew from that debris swarm around the Earth. Hartmann suggested that in its early history, the Earth had crossed paths with a world the size of Mars. Somehow, Earth survived the collision. The swirling mass of debris coalesced to form the Moon. To many scientists, Hartmann's ideas seemed almost too far-fetched to believe. When I first heard about this theory that Bill Hartmann had put forward, my first reaction was almost shock. I didn't believe it. I was pretty sure that in the weekend I could do a few calculations, and show that what they had proposed simply couldn't work. In fact, it took work with the biggest military computers, to try to fill out the holes in this theory, and begin to realize that really it could work after all. The more people considered it, the more Hartmann's theory seemed to fit the known facts about the Moon. If it was born from the Earth, its rock would be the same. The heat of the collision explained why the Moon was once entirely molten, and any water in its rocks had vaporized. It's now a quarter of a century since we left the Moon. Since then, probes have flown to the outermost reaches of the solar system, to the giant planets and their moons. They showed that ours was not the only moon to have had a violent birth. At Uranus, Miranda's bizarre patchwork surface suggests that this little moon was once blasted apart, then reformed and settled back into orbit around the planet. And perhaps the rings of Saturn were once a moon, which collided with another body and shattered, the debris remaining suspended as an array of rings. Everywhere in the Solar System there seemed to be evidence of violent origins. You get a system of planets where they all have fairly regular properties; they're all going around the Sun in the same direction. But superimposed on these regular properties are bizarre strange properties. I mean one will have a big ring system, another will have a big satellite, and another will be tilted over because of these few big impacts that happened down through the sequence of formation. The journey to the Moon not only revealed the turbulent past of Earth and its companion world. It also transformed our view of the planets beyond. Going to the Moon has lifted us, all of us. It lifted humanity out of the bounds of the Earth. We realized that human beings can leave the Earth, and explore some other planetary body.