Editorial: Apollo 11: still creating a Buzz

"Are we ready?" our management editor Nick Smith asked. "Yes, we have lift off," replied his interviewee, Buzz Aldrin. Nick tells me that's how his interview with the second man on the Moon began. 

It would be a rather grandiose opener from almost anyone else, but a cool and casual remark from Aldrin that's bound to raise a smile of recognition. But then Aldrin also signs his emails 'Buzz Aldrin, Rocket Hero' and let's face it: there aren't many people who could do that.

Read about the man's highs and lows, what fires him up today and his own view of what the Moon landing achieved on p74.

It's just part of the coverage in this issue to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11. E&T will be the only magazine asking Aldrin about the engineering, looking at the mission control computer or how the parts were made, but we won't I suspect be the only magazine, newspaper, television channel or radio station to be marking this particular anniversary. Why will it generate so much interest?

To myself, my colleagues and our readers, the Apollo 11 mission was a remarkable achievement. As Aldrin says, everyone from engineers to aeroplane pilots cite the Moon landing as their career inspiration. But many people, both at the time and 40 years later, remain cynical about whether the Apollo programme was worth all the effort. A survey for E&T found that 44 per cent of the general public don't believe the achievement was worth the investment, but then one in four of them reckon Apollo 11 never actually made it to the Moon anyway. One in four is a lot, so just in case you find yourself cornered by one of these conspiracy theorists at a party, we arm you with the quick counterarguments on p24.

Piers Bizony, our space exploration correspondent, explores how triumph soon turned to anticlimax, amazement to disillusionment, and how the scientific and engineering approaches that got us there at all are partly to blame. If you read just one article about the meaning of the Moon landing this month, make it this one.

The rest of our coverage in this issue looks at the scientific, engineering and technology legacy of Apollo 11. It's sometimes said there's more computing power in your mobile phone than in the mission control computer but Piers Bizony explains why it was better than that on p59. On p62, Sean Davies talks to the key engineers that got the vehicle off the ground and into space to start with. And Juan Pablo Conti recaps the communications for Apollo 11 on p70 and explains how it might be done differently next time.

Nasa is moving ahead with plans to go back to the moon by 2020. Mark Williamson weighs up the contenders for that future mission on p30 - but as you can see from our cover, Aldrin doesn't think there's a lot of point in a return gig. 

If you missed the event 40 years ago because you were too young or you'd like to show your children - or even grandchildren - find our selection of video links at http://kn.theiet.org/magazine/issues/0912/weblinks.cfm [new window]. Relive that night, and perhaps help to inspire another generation of electronics engineers, aeronautical engineers, mechanical engineers, materials engineers, computer scientists...

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