The Malta Independent 18 January 2022, Tuesday

We went to the moon

Tuesday, 7 December 2021, 10:01 Last update: about 2 months ago

Author: Gordon Caruana Dingli. Publisher: Kite Group (2021) Pages: 278pp. www.kitegroup.com.mt

Mark A. Schapiro

What an exciting project to be a part of - We went to the Moon by Gordon Caruana Dingli and published by Kite Group - a chronicle of local anecdotes about the historic Apollo 11 journey to the Moon. I was fortunate to celebrate the 50th anniversary of that historic moment in Malta and found incredible enthusiasm and knowledge about the whole Apollo programme.

It is amazing what close connections our two countries have and the strong historic bilateral relations we have enjoyed. I know you will enjoy reading the little-known facts Gordon has unearthed about Malta's enthusiastic reaction to the Apollo 11 Moon Landing. Those astronauts, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, carried a small Maltese flag with them to the Moon and back. And the Apollo 13 astronauts famously visited Malta in 1970 after their return from the Moon.

I hope I am not stealing Gordon's thunder here, but you may not know that in 2009 the US embassy brought to Malta Harrison Hagan "Jack" Schmitt, who was the 12th man to set foot on the Moon. Senator Schmitt is an American geologist, retired NASA astronaut, university professor and a former US senator from New Mexico. During his visit to Malta, he toured several schools and the University to talk about his Moon-walking experience.

The US government has set a bold goal to put Americans back on the Moon by 2024 and continue our proud legacy of leadership in space. We hope that American astronauts will soon return to the Moon for long-term exploration, also using it perhaps as a platform for missions to Mars and beyond.

During the Covid-19 pandemic we realized just how much the world depends on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). The economy, communications, our general well-being, practically every detail of our lives - all depend on these key elements.

As we move towards a more digitally connected world, both our countries want to see more students studying STEM and make sure everybody is involved. I would particularly like to encourage young women to pursue STEM careers.  Women are not well-represented in these fields and no society can realize its full potential unless it unleashes the creative and intellectual power of all its members.

In 2019, as part of our activities to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo Moon landing, we organised Space Week in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, Microsoft Malta, Integrated Marketing Services Ltd and the Astronomical Society of Malta (ASM). Students from local schools engaged in Piper circuit building and programming, virtual reality spacewalks and exploration, Mars Rover Lego construction and viewing of the Sun and solar system.

US aerospace engineer and NASA astronaut Jeanette Epps shared her experience in astronaut training in a recorded message to the Maltese students. She encouraged them to study STEM subjects and follow their passion in careers they choose, regardless of the obstacles they may encounter. If you have not already done so, I encourage you to watch the movie Hidden Figures. It relates the story of a team of black female mathematicians who served a vital role in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) during the early years of the US space programme. The team's story is one of empowerment, of black women overcoming the dual barriers of race and gender. They not only succeeded but became heroes in America's race to explore space.

One of these women, Katherine Johnson, a space scientist and mathematician, was a leading figure in American space history and made enormous contributions to America's aeronautics and space programmes by her incorporation of computing tools. She played a huge role in calculating key trajectories in the Space Race; calculating the trajectory for Alan Shepard, the first American in space, as well as for the 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the Moon. Johnson passed away on 24 February 2020, but throughout her retirement she continued to encourage students to pursue careers in science and technology fields. NASA named The Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility to honour her contribution to space exploration.

Here's to conquering new horizons and, more importantly, to a more equitable representation of women and men from all ethnic and socioeconomic groups in all sectors of society, including STEM. Here's to our next mission to return humans to the surface of the Moon, a mission we hope will include female astronauts, who will take the first giant leap for womankind.

Mark A. Schapiro, Chargé d'Affaires, US embassy (2018-2020)

Book signing by Gordon Caruana Dingli will be held on Tuesday, 7 December from 7 to 8.30pm at Kite Group, 13 Triq il-Frangiskani, Ħamrun. Caruana Dingli will describe the rockets used and the details of the astronauts who went to the Moon. There are also 50 anecdotes from Maltese people who remember the event of the Moon landing. The author will describe other links with Malta like newspaper and TV coverage of the event, stamps published and also the Apollo series of paintings by the famous artist Victor Pasmore, who lived in Malta.

 


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