Baylor Profs Reflect on 40th Anniversary of Moon Landing

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    Apollo 11 Commander Neil Armstrong working at an equipment storage area on the lunar module. This is one of the few photos that shows Armstrong during the moonwalk. Photo credit: NASA
  • News Photo 4742
    Buzz Aldrin climbs down the Eagle's ladder to the surface. Photo credit: NASA
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July 14, 2009

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On July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 Commander Neil Armstrong took "one small step for giant leap for mankind." Forty years later, as America commemorates the first moon landing, Baylor University faculty provide varied perspective and insight on what has been called humankind's greatest adventure.

Baylor Physicist Sees Space Exploration Still Important 40 Years After Moon Landing

As Americans reflect on 40 years of space travel since the historic moon landing, the director of Baylor's Center for Astrophysics, Space Physics and Engineering Research - known as CASPER - says while the space program will continue as one of mankind's most exciting endeavors, it also is "desperately in need of a dream."

Baylor physicist Dr. Truell Hyde, who has directed CASPER for the past decade, says 40 years ago NASA promoted a dream of putting a man on the moon, which sparked children to get interested in science and technology. But since then, those large goals have slowly faded away.

"As a nation, we're rapidly approaching a severe problem in that we no longer have enough people trained in science and technology to fill all the high-tech jobs we need to maintain our position in the world," Hyde explained. "This is partly due to the fact that we no longer seem to have the national drive that is necessary to generate and carry through the large dreams that spark goals such as the first lunar landing. This is slowly being recognized by the federal government as a desperate issue."

Hyde said a mission to Mars is the next "big thing," but without increases in funding, it will be difficult to do.

Contact: Frank Raczkiewicz, (254) 710-1964, Frank

Unmanned Space Travel Not the Complete Answer

Baylor researchers helping develop new ways to keep space travel safe

Forty years after Apollo 11 landed on the moon, Baylor University space physicist Truell Hyde says the next-generation notion of more unmanned spacecraft heading into space is essential, cheaper and safer, but not necessarily the right path to follow.

"There is certainly science that can be conducted by unmanned missions with minimal risk to people. However, there will always be science that can only be completed successfully by humans," Hyde said. "More important is the human drive for exploration. The tangible harvest--in space exploration at least--is clear. The space program continues to lead to new technologies, materials and processes that save and enrich lives."

Safety is always of the utmost importance when talking about manned space travel, and research testing at Baylor's Center for Astrophysics, Space Physics and Engineering Research (CASPER) lab could play an integral part in developing new ways to keep astronauts safe. CASPER, located on the Texas State Technical College (TSTC) campus in Waco and operated by both Baylor and TSTC, consists of the Astrophysics and Space Science Theory Group (ASSTG), the Hypervelocity Impacts and Dusty Plasmas Lab (HIDPL) and the Space Science Lab (SSL).

CASPER researchers within the HIDPL and SSL recently impact-tested a new type of space shuttle shielding provided by Zyvex, a nanotechnology firm located in Richardson that acts as one of the center's industrial partners. These prototype shields, which are smaller and lighter than the shielding currently used, were built by weaving different carbon nano-tubing together. Researchers then used a light-gas accelerator system to test the shields. The research could lead to lighter and more efficient protective shielding for everything from satellites to space suits.

Contact: Frank Raczkiewicz, (254) 710-1964,

Is There Any Reason To Go Back To The Moon?

Not Really, Says Baylor University Sociology Professor

With the 40th anniversary of the moon landing approaching, Dr. Larry Lyon says he is reminded of old Peggy Lee song "Is That All There Is?"

In the hubbub over the trip, "experts" and armchair philosophers came up with a slew of predictions: that the moon would become a refueling station for trips to Mars, that people would become (take your choice) more or less religious, that romantic notions about the moon would decline.

But "when we came back from the moon, that's all there was, nothing more," Lyon said. "We tried again and again, and we told ourselves that the next trip was especially important because of the new landing site or the new scientific tests, but finally, we ran out of rationalizations. And, even today, we can't come up with reasons to go back."

An irony: This year also marks the 40th anniversary of Lee's recording of the song.

Contact: Terry Goodrich, (254) 710-3321,

Apollo Anniversary Provides Interdisciplinary, Visioning Opportunities in the Classroom

In 1957, Russia launched the Sputnik satellite into orbit, and the Cold War space race between Russia and the United States was on.

"Suddenly we are behind, and we start ramping up our science and engineering curriculum and education from elementary schools all the way to universities," said Dr. Wesley Null, associate professor of curriculum and instruction in Baylor's School of Education and an expert in the history of American education, particularly its curriculum.

The United States eventually won the race and will commemorate the 40th anniversary of the "first man on the moon" on July 20, a prime opportunity for teachers to connect the disciplines of history, social studies and science - and quite possibly help lead the way to developing America's next great vision.

"This was a time when science was more prominent than it ever had been and we've got the great vision the president lays out for us. An immediate thing that teachers can do is to seize upon that as an interdisciplinary opportunity to connect the history and the science," Null said.

Most recently, Null was project director for Baylor's nearly $1 million Teaching American History grant from the U.S. Department of Education, a collaboration between Baylor and local school districts to ensure that history and social studies teachers develop the knowledge, skills and commitments necessary to teach traditional American history in exciting and engaging ways.

One example would be collecting oral histories from the generation that witnessed the actual moon landing, via live television. "This is one of those times where everybody remembers what they were doing when we landed on the moon: what was it like, how did you feel when this happened, what was the mood of the country?" Null said.

But what about outer space today? In the 1960s, President Kennedy challenged America to do something great as a nation. However, four decades later, America's attention is focused on domestic challenges, like health care, the environment, energy and the economy. Null says teachers could play a vital role in helping America determine its next great dream.

"We could ask ourselves and encourage our teachers to ask our students, what kind of visions and ideals do we have now? How might teachers be part of a visionary movement to tackle today's domestic issues in the same way that President Kennedy challenged us to tackle the problem of going to the moon? We need a vision for both."

Contact: Lori Fogleman, (254) 710-6275,

Baylor Physicists Have an Idea That Shows the Possibility of Traveling at the Speed of Light

For the past four decades, movies and television have shown starships racing across galaxies at the speed of light. But can traveling at warp speed ever become a reality?

Two Baylor University physicists believe they have an idea that can turn traveling at the speed of light from science fiction to science, and their idea does not break any laws of physics.

Dr. Gerald Cleaver, associate professor of physics at Baylor, and Dr. Richard Obousy, a Baylor post-doctoral student, theorize that by manipulating the space-time dimensions around the spaceship with a massive amount of energy, it would create a "bubble" that could push the ship faster than the speed of light. To create this bubble, the Baylor physicists believe manipulating the 11-dimension would create dark energy. Cleaver said positive dark energy is responsible for speeding up the universe as time moves on, just like it did after the Big Bang, when the universe expanded faster than the speed of light.

"Think of it like a surfer riding a wave," said Cleaver, who co-authored the paper with Obousy about the new method. "The ship would be pushed by the bubble and the bubble would be traveling faster than the speed of light."

The method is based on the Alcubierre drive, which proposes expanding the fabric of space behind a ship into a bubble and shrinking space-time in front of the ship. The ship would not actually move, rather the ship would sit in between the expanding and shrinking space-time dimensions. Since space would move around the ship, the theory does not violate Einstein's Theory of Relativity, which states that it would take an infinite amount of energy to accelerate an object faster than the speed of light.

Contact: Frank Raczkiewicz, (254) 710-1964,

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