I remember. It was 1969. I was 4 years old and my sister was born a month before. I remember my Dad’s excitement which was infectious. It spilled over and I couldn’t help but be excited too.
It was the year of the moon landing, and us, in Mozambique, were following the preparations and the journey. TV hadn’t yet come to the country, so the news we got was via radio or the newspapers. The year of my sister’s birth was an exciting one – I got a baby sister to play with and people from Earth landed on the moon.
I was reminded of these memories the other day when I visited the Space Exhibition hosted by South Africa’s Department of Science and Technology. My whole clan met up and had a most enjoyable morning looking at the exhibits and seeping in the history of space exploration as we know it to date.
I was verrrry chuffed when the the first step on the long timeline had a Portuguese flavour to it! In 1535 the Portuguese navigator, João De Castro, first measured the magnetic declination off the Cape coast. So this makes him not only one of the first explorers of the seas but one of the first explorers of outer space. I know I’m reaching but stay with me.
I found it interesting that among life-size replica of the lunar vehicle a replica of Jules Verne’s Columbiad was placed. As a child I devoured Jules Verne’s books but From The Earth To The Moon was not one of them. I must have missed it somehow.
Look at this space suit – based on the Mercury design, it’s the Gemini G-2G prototype, the third of five such prototypes. It had a shiny silver outer and had thermal and radiation protection for possible use outside the capsule.
When I saw this capsule I couldn’t imagine getting inside it myself. Astronauts had to be a maximum of 1,80m tall and the seats had to be moulded to their bodies. All onboard systems were mechanical and it was used for suborbital flights between 1959 and 1963.
My favourite exhibit was the full-size model of the battery-operated Lunar Rover.
Also on display was the Mariner IV probe that investigated Mars, Venus and Mercury. The US Mariner programme generated the first pictures of Mars. This model represents Mariner 4, launched in November 1964 and performed the first successful flyby of Mars.
The rest of the exhibits were equally exciting – a scale model of the Saturn V rocket – it remains the only vehicle to have carried astronauts beyond low Earth orbit.
A model of the space shuttle, the MIR space station and a sample of moon rock, samples brought back by the Apollo astronauts.
Off course, no space exhibition is complete without a replica of Darth Vader’s suit! This is a limited edition prop version from the 1980 Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back. It’s 2.02m tall. Although Star Wars is science-fiction it expands the imagination of what space travel could be like.