By Alan Fleck | DFW Newsflash | July 2018
A long line of children and adults waited in the pre-noon heat to enter the Moon Day 2018 celebration at Frontiers of Flight Museum on Saturday, July 21. Attendance was estimated at over 500 people.
Prior to even entering the museum, attendees walked by two solar panels lying on the ground, being used to power the transmission of radio signals. Randy Gunning, a Lockheed Martin engineer, explained the solar panels were similar to those found on spacecraft, and invited attendees to transmit voice messages to others who were listening on his channel. Gunning explained speaking uses more of the captured and stored solar power than listening does.
This year’s Moon Day commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Apollo VII mission in October, 1968. Apollo VII was the first manned test of the Command and Service Module design, which would later be used for the Apollo 11 Moon landing mission. The crew orbited the Earth 163 times and spent 10 days and 20 hours in space. The actual Apollo VII Command Module is on loan to the Frontiers of Flight Museum from the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
Each attendee who entered the museum was provided a Moon Day Activity Guide, outlining numerous presentations, classes, and hands-on activities. Boy Scouts in attendance could meet requirements for the following merit badges: Space Exploration Badge, Astronomy Badge, and Radio Badge.
One activity allowed attendees to control a model Mars Rover through a simulated Mars terrain. Attendees could also build and fly their own paper airplanes with distances officially measured by students in white lab coats from University of Texas Dallas.
Ken Ruffin, President of the National Space Society (NSS) of North Texas, gave his thoughts on the relationship between the success of Apollo 7 and the International Space Station.
“At the time it was as much technological as it was political,” Ruffin said. “It was a space race with the Soviet Union. The transition has been passed from Apollo to the International Space Station. What NASA has in store for the future is called the Lunar Orbital Platform Gateway (LOP-G). It is going to be a smaller version of the International Space Station, but instead of orbiting the Earth, it will orbit the Moon. It is planned for about seven years from now (mid-2020’s) and will be in stages.
“NASA has been building the space launch system since the shuttles were retired in 2011. The new NASA rockets will launch carrying the parts, the sections of the Lunar Orbital Platform Gateway (LOP-G). The International Space Station has been an international effort since 2000, and that will also be the case with the Lunar Orbital Platform Gateway. There are companies called Space X and Blue Origin, each of whom are currently building rockets not only to launch people and cargo into Earth orbit, but long term. The plan is to launch people to the Moon, and beyond the Moon, to Mars. According to their schedules, the companies are ahead of schedule.”
Ruffin said that the budget for the space program has not been an issue, contrary to general belief.
“Once the space race was won, NASA’s budget dropped significantly. But since then it has gradually increased, above and beyond inflation,” Ruffin said. “The last couple of years have been $700 million per year increases in the NASA budget, not the total budget, but increases. Most people aren’t aware of that.”
Test pilots Johnathan Dietrich and Stephen Koether are from the Air Force Material Command and present as part of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and Society of Experimental Test Pilots.
“Most of the Air Force astronauts have gone to test pilot school, either as a pilot or as an engineer,” Dietrich said. “It is not a requirement. Now, a lot of the astronaut core, they are looking for are more scientific, PhD level personnel.
“The Apollo guys were more operators than scientists. They were all test pilots. As technology has advanced, the ability to actually fly and have an operator in the capsule is not as important as it is to have a scientist or an engineer.
“We always want to get the kids involved, because when the kids get older, they will realize that in ten or fifteen years they will be the ones making this stuff. If they can make that connection early and realize they can do it, playing computers and all that stuff is going to be important. Those are the kinds of minds that will pave the way for the technology that we don’t even know will exist in the future.”
James Bruckart of Dallas, waited with one child in a stroller while two others played with special Lego’s to build space vehicles and science instruments.
“It’s important to bring kids to such an event as this, because our world is increasingly being controlled and driven by computers, robots and other technology,” Bruckart said. “If we don’t get them interested early, we run the risk of making them users instead of creators of technology. I think even if you aren’t from a STEM background, there are lots of things that can help us encourage them, whether it is writing about it, or drawing picture about it. It is a great opportunity for people to enjoy something that is likely in our future.”
“This is the fourth year that my son Gavin has attended Moon Day,” Melissa Pancoast from Flower Mound said. “Gavin always looks forward to the event.” Gavin indicated the planetarium is his favorite part.