For this month's special, It happens today! presents an interview with Emiliano Battistini, space expert and author of the essay "Space stories. Successes and failures of the pioneers of the universe", published by Paesi Edizioni on the occasion of the landing of the first man on the moon, occurred on 20 July of 51 years ago.
«OK, traffic controllers, be careful. Today is our day and the hopes and dreams of the entire world are with us. [...]». In his essay entitled "Space stories. Successes and failures of the pioneers of the universe", he narrates in detail what happened that 20 July 1969.
Could you retrace the story?
"It is such a big and complex story that it is very hard to summarise, but I'll try. Reaching the moon was the goal set at NASA by President Kennedy in 1961, who became even more important after his tragic death in 1953. The Apollo 11 mission was the culmination of the efforts of tens of thousands of people all over United States, including workers, technicians, mathematicians, engineers, politicians and managers, with the - often underestimated - fundamental contribution of many women, only recently celebrated. Oh the evening of 20 July, the three astronauts of the mission were the tip of the iceberg of all this. I like that you decided to mention the sentence spoken by flight director Gene Kranz, a legend for us in the sector. On that day, he led a team of young engineers (average age 26 years) who had to drive Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin during the descent towards the lunar surface. Most of the Planet Earth was watching TV and following updates minute by minute. A rare moment of - almost - unity of the entire humanity."
In what historical context does the Apollo 11 launch fit and what did that event mean?
"If you think about 1969, there are some things that immediately come to your mind: Cold war, Vietnam war, pacifist protests. Apollo 11 was part of all this, but at the same time it was not. It was because the space race was part of the rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union; it was not because the NASA environment seemed a world apart from what was happening outside. For example, many of the men who worked there, including the astronauts, avoided Vietnam. However, as I said before, the mission also marked one of the very rare moments in which the entire humanity - like it or not - found itself united, or almost.”
The news of the moon landing was followed in Italy by a RAI programme reporting from the Mission Control Center in Houston. Why did the Italians «miss the first historical sentence spoken by Armstrong on the moon», as you report in your essay? Is there any curiosity linked to that precise moment?
"I have to admit that telling this anecdote was one of the funniest moment during in writing my book. Essentially, the commentator from Rome, Tito Stagno, misinterpreted the radio communication between the lunar module with Armstrong and Aldrin on board and the Houston Mission Control. Because of this, he gave the announcement of the landing almost a minute in advance. In the following moments, the debate with the correspondent from Houston, Ruggero Orlando, on the correctness of the information, made Armstrong's sentence “Houston, Tranquillity Base here, the Eagle has landed” pass unnoticed."
With regard to the present, what are the prospects for space research, especially in the United States of the last few years?
"The last few years have been the privates boom. For budget opportunities, NASA decided to "rent" the transportation of astronauts and supplies towards the International Space Station to private companies, including Elon Musk's SpaceX. The evolution of this scenery is that these companies will soon launch people into space non only for space agencies, but also for private scientific researches and space tourism. For its part, NASA would like to allocate its saved resources to exploration programmes, such as the return to the moon or the arrival on Mars (the latter way more difficult to reach then the former). These are complex programmes, and everything will depend on the political will to implement them, rather than on technological difficulties".
We thank Emiliano Battistini for his availability for the interview.
Emiliano Battisti is consultant for a space company, General Secretary of the association for social promotion Il Caffè Geopolitico and Responsible for the coordination of Social Media, the North America Desk and the space desk for the homonymous magazine. He wrote the book "Space stories. Successes and failures of the pioneers of the universe", published by Paesi Edizioni.
Translated by Roberta Sforza