ITHACA, N.Y. — On July 20, 1969, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin left their spacecraft and walked on the moon — the first humans to do so. Cornell University will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing July 20 with an event called “From the Moon to Mars and Beyond.” 

Fifty years ago, the moon landing changed what people considered humanly possible, said Nikole Lewis, assistant professor of astronomy and Sagan Institute deputy director.

“It was the first time that people had set foot on a planet other than Earth, and an event like that can be nothing but historic,” she said. “It certainly inspired generations to think about going beyond the Earth and exploring worlds in our solar system, and even past that.”

To commemorate the achievement, Cornell will host an afternoon of lectures and a panel starting at 2 p.m. Saturday, July 20, in the Call Auditorium in Kennedy Hall.

The Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections in Kroch Library also has an Apollo 11 exhibit on display for the summer. One highlight is a notebook by Cornell graduate Ernest Sternglass, who conducted research on electron amplification, which helped an estimated 650 million people watch the live images of Armstrong and Aldrin taking their first steps on the moon July 20, 1969.

The line at Olin Library stretches to the door in September 1969, as students, faculty and other observers – about 8,000 people over a four-day period – get a glimpse of moon dust returned by the Apollo 11 astronauts. Professors Thomas Gold, astronomy, and George Morrison, chemistry, both were among 142 scientists commissioned by NASA to receive samples. (Photo by Cornell University)

The event kicks off with a lecture by visiting scientist Peter Thomas entitled “Apollo 11 Plus 50: Context, Personal Recollections and Why It Succeeded.” Following Thomas, Michael Mellon, principal research scientist in Cornell’s astronomy department, will give a talk called “Exploring Mars: Past, Present and Future.”

Mellon and Thomas will focus on the history of human exploration of the moon and Mars and give audience members context on the implications of further research and investigation.

Cornell had a role in analyzing samples from the moon for their elemental makeup. Lewis said Cornell has a rich history of planetary science, which is a tradition that has continued today. These days, Cornell chemists and planetary scientists work on a broad range of things concerning the future of space exploration, Lewis said. Some areas of interest include developing technology required to explore new planets and solar systems and analyzing samples for space.

Looking to the fate of space exploration, a panel consisting of three Carl Sagan Institute members will take place at 3:20 p.m. The panel will discuss the future of robotic and human space exploration in the long-term.

The speakers will include Lewis, Jonathan Lunine, professor in the Physical Sciences and chair of the astronomy department, and Mason Peck, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and former NASA chief technologist.

Lewis said one big goal that came out of the moon landing was the goal to get people to Mars, but that isn’t the only thing scientists are interested in.

“That’s the next thing, the next obvious place to send people in our solar system,” she said. “But we have a lot of folks thinking about how we could potentially get something to light speed of light to travel to other solar systems.”

Featured image: Astronaut Buzz Aldrin walks on the surface of the moon near the leg of the lunar module Eagle during the Apollo 11 mission. Mission commander Neil Armstrong took this photograph with a 70mm lunar surface camera. While astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin explored the Sea of Tranquility. (NASA)

Becky Mehorter is an intern at the Ithaca Voice. She is a rising senior at Ithaca College with majors in journalism and Spanish.