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Jeff Bryant

Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing

July 17, 2014 —
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Although I was born several years after the first Apollo Moon landing, the excitement surrounding the Apollo Moon landings and the space exploration enthusiasm it fostered drastically affected my childhood and shaped the direction my later life would follow. The space race, arguably peaking with the Apollo Moon landings, generated a funding explosion for science education that allowed many planetariums to be built and a phase of education encouragement that affected many of my generation. If we could land on the Moon, imagine what else we might achieve if we worked hard enough.

On July 20, we celebrate the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing. This landing began a sequence of Moon landings that ended with Apollo 17. We can leverage Wolfram|Alpha and the recently released Mathematica 10 to help us celebrate and continue exploring (data, in this case). The available data includes dates, crew information, and landing coordinates.

Let’s explore the crew information first. As with many famous people, Wolfram|Alpha gives a fair amount of information like birth dates and locations, pictures, time lines, height information, and familial information.

Apollo 11 crew

With the release of Mathematica 10, we can use GeoGraphics to create maps. We can use the data for the crews of all the Apollo landings to generate visualizations of their birth locations.

GeoGraphics map of Apollo missions crews

Perhaps my favorite data includes information on the landing sites. Although Wolfram|Alpha gives you a picture showing the landing location of Apollo 11, we can leverage the newly released Mathematica 10 to generate custom maps of the location, which even allows you to specify which projection you want.

Apollo 11 mission projected

We can have a little fun by using map projections that show even more of the Moon, including the far side.

Alternative GeoProjection of Apollo 11 on Moon

Here’s a projection you probably have never seen applied to the Moon.

Bonne projection of Moon

Going beyond Apollo 11, we can plot all of the other Apollo Moon landings.

Plotting multiple Apollo missions

Its also a fun activity to plan a future exploration of the Apollo Moon landing sites. What would be the shortest path needed to visit all of the sites? We can use FindShortestTour to achieve our goals.


An interesting side note is that, although not related to the landing itself, Wolfram|Alpha has data on the Saturn V rocket, which was used to launch all of the Apollo Moon missions. To this day, it remains the most powerful lifting body ever put into active service.

Although the Apollo program ended decades ago, its influence continues to inspire the media to this day. Examples include books and movies such as Apollo 13 and The Right Stuff (book | movie). Maybe one day we will return to the Moon. But even if we do, the celebration of the anniversary of the first manned landing on the Moon will always be something to remember.

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