Men in space: from fiction to reality

Fifty years ago, the world surrendered to a man who made history by stepping on the moon for the first time. The Energiser remembers and honours the date, the conversation with another astronaut who marked the history of NASA, Jim Wetherbee

Four days have elapsed since the launch, from NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Centre 39A Platform, Florida, for the Apollo 11 spacecraft to traverse the nearly 400,000 kilometres separating Earth from the Moon. On July 20, 1969, at 8:17 p.m.40s UTC, the Eagle module, built for this purpose, landed on the Mare Tranquillitatis of the until then mysterious natural satellite and the ship's commander, Neil Armstrong, stepped on lunar soil. For the first time in history, a human being went to the moon. It was a small step for a man, a giant leap for humankind”, said the 39-year-old American astronaut. The phrase, epic, was heard by millions of stunned people all over the world, who accompanied the feat on television, still in black and white. There had been years of research and aeronautical testing behind it, since the beginning of the Apollo Project in 1961, that was not always successful.

Recently, the NASA Space Agency announced a new mission to the Moon. It is planned for 2024 and the exploration missions, named Artemis (the Greek goddess twin sister of Apollo), will start already next year. At the genesis of the idea lies the dream of breaking new ground for NASA's ambitious plan to reach Mars.

AN ASTRONAUT IN PORTUGAL

At age 10, Jim Wetherbee had a dream that many children have: to be an astronaut. However, unlike the majority, he had the luck, and the merit, to achieve it. He never made it to the Moon, but was a true space traveller with a record of six Space Shuttle missions on his resume, five of them as commander. Specializing in aerospace engineering, and after serving the US naval forces, in 1984 he was part of a select group of people selected for a six-year NASA astronaut-training program. From his successful space career of about two decades stands out his dedication to the aspects of security and risk management, an experience that continues to transpose into the organizational world.

Commander Jim Wetherbee, on the right, in one of the space shuttle Discovery

At the invitation of Galp, he landed last April in Portugal at the Safety Forum event and, speaking to Energiser, spoke about the importance of making the right decisions at crucial moments, as well as remembering and describing what it is like inside a spaceship and the thrill of observing the Earth from space. It is unbelievable! The brightness, the blueness of the oceans... We cannot see that colour down here.