One giant leap

Today is the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Although a total of 12 men have walked on the moon to date, it is the first, Neil Armstrong, who still captures the imagination the most.

Through the wonders of the internet, it is possible to relive the experience in real time thanks to a website called We Choose The Moon. This fascinating site combines NASA video and radio footage, and also videos shot by the lunar astronauts themselves, to provide an enthralling minute-by-minute account of one of mankind’s most remarkable moments. I’ve had it open on my PC today – as someone who wasn’t born until the year after the event, it’s the next best thing to actually having been there.

The story of the first manned Moon landing has been well chronicled over the years, but one particular fact caught my eye today, which is that the two computers on the Apollo 11 craft – one in the command module, the other in the Eagle moon lander – each had a total memory capacity of about 160 kilobytes. That was huge back in 1969, but by comparison today I routinely carry a 16 GB memory stick less than half the size of a packet of chewing gum which is equivalent to more than 100,000 Apollo 11 computers. I also use a small portable hard drive (to backup my photos and videos), about the size of a pack of playing cards, with a capacity of 250 GB – that’s 1.6 million times what the Eagle had. That’s quite a lot!

Even if you halve the comparative time period from 40 to 20 years, I can remember buying a 1 MB memory expansion card – almost as large as a paperback book – for my old Commodore Amiga computer in 1989. I would have needed 250,000 of those to give me the same storage capability I currently have.

Times change, and the numbers associated with technological progress continue to change at an astronomical rate. But still the thought of a man walking on the moon continues to amaze, even 40 years later.