Where did we land on the moon?

Have you ever looked up at the moon and wondered where exactly we landed?  Or for that matter, do you know how many times or how many people have landed on the moon?  If you haven’t then you should.  Especially if you have kids, this is a great opportunity to get your kids excited about science, technology, space and learning.  Using the moon is an awesome way to inspire your kids for a number of reasons; it is easy to see with just the naked eye, it is constantly changing and there are lots of cool things about it.  Very soon I plan on creating a page for the moon and each of the planets with tons of cool and interesting facts.  Here is just a taste, beginning with a few pictures of the Apollo 11 mission.

All images available from www.nasa.gov

Now, I’d like to start by answering the initial questions I asked above then I’ll throw in a few facts you can pass on to your kids tonight.  Humans have landed 6 spacecraft on the moon beginning with Apollo 11, and a total of 12 people have walked on its surface.  All of these people were Americans, they were all men and it only took 7 years from when President Kennedy set the goal to when it was actually achieved.  The first moon landing was Apollo 11 on July 20th, 1969 and the last was Apollo 17 on December 7, 1972.  It only took us seven years to get there and we spent just 3 1/2 years actually visiting the moon, for a total of just over 10 years that made up earth’s total in-person exploration of the moon.  You may have heard that there is more computer technology in a modern car than was on the Apollo spacecraft.  In fact, technology is advancing so rapidly that today, there is more computer technology in your smartphone than there was on Apollo.  Amazing, huh?  Now imaging what we could do today if we just put our minds to it.  There is not doubt in my mind that our current technological advancements are due overwhelmingly to the space program.  Beyond the great adventure it brought, our modern lives were richly improved because of it.   I for one can’t wait until we return. Here are couple of interesting facts that iexplorenow.com has compiled that you can share with your kids to get them excited about the moon the next time you’re out at night.  Some of these things are obvious to us, but depending on the age of the child you are talking to these simple facts may be astonishing to them.

1.  The moon is about 1/4 the size of the earth and it is 250,000 miles away from the earth.  If the earth were the size of a basketball then the moon would be about the size of a tennis ball.  The amazing thing is that the basketball and the softball would be almost 24 feet away.  One way to demonstrate this (without measuring) is to put the basketball directly under the basket and the tennis ball on the 3 point line.  At this scale, the International Space Station would orbit the basketball less than 1/4 inch away.

2.  The Full Moon ALWAYS rises with the setting sun.  This is because the sun lights up the side facing us when they are opposite in the sky.  It is also the only moon that is overhead in the middle of the night.

3.  The moon spins at exactly the same rate as it rotates around the earth which is why the same side always faces us and always will.

4.  The sun is 400 times larger than the moon but it is also about 400 times farther away, which makes them look almost exactly the same size to us.  This is the reason that we have solar eclipses where the sun is just barely covered by the moon.  We are lucky to be here now to see this amazing thing.  This is because the moon is slowly moving away from the earth.  In the distant past it appeared much larger and in the distant future it will appear much smaller.

5.  Footprints left on the moon by the  Apollo astronauts will last for at least 10 million years because there is no erosion on the moon.

6.  There are lots of man made objects on the moon including the descent stages from all of the landings, the lunar rovers from Apollo 15, 16 & 17 and lots of surveyors and experimental equipment.

7.  The moon rises in the east and sets in the west, following the same approximate path as the sun and all of the planets.  This “path” is called the ecliptic.

8.  The moon does not make it’s own light.  We only see the moon because it reflects light from the sun back to us on earth.  If there was no sun then we wouldn’t be able to see the moon.

9.  The moon’s gravitational pull on the earth is responsible for many of the ocean tides.

10.  The moon is not smooth like it appears to us.  In fact it is covered with lava fields, craters, mountains and valleys.

11.  Finally, here is a good way to explain to your kids where we first landed on the moon.  Apollo 11 with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed at the Sea of Tranquility on July 20, 1969 while Michael Collins orbited overhead.  The Sea of Tranquility is a dark gray splotch that is part of a larger feature that looks kind of like a hand.  The landing site of Apollo is marked by an “X” in the following picture.

Apollo 11 Landing Site "X"The easiest way to help kids visualize this is to mark the large knuckle of their thumb then have them hold their hand in a kind squashed downward facing “C” like this.Hand_XThen you can help them find the dark shadow on the moon that looks like their hand.  The X on their thumb corresponds to the landing site of Apollo 11.  Of course, how well a child will understand this depends on their age but most kids over 5 or so will understand and even be able to tell others later.  Here is the full effect.Moon_Hand_X Also, here are the other six sites.  You can print out this image by right clicking and clicking Print Image. Lunar Landing Sites

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