RICHMOND, Va. -- While the names of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin will forever be etched in the history books for walking on the moon on July, 20, 1969 , many others were crucial to the success of the Apollo 11 mission.
In fact, one Richmonder left his mark on the lunar surface without ever leaving the Earth.
In a photograph of Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, taken by Neil Armstrong during their moonwalk, a device called a laser ranging retroreflector can be seen in Aldrin’s right hand.
Dr. Carroll Alley, a 1948 graduate of the University of Richmond, was the head of the team who created the device.
The retroreflector absorbs lasers sent from observatories on earth and sends them right back, allowing researchers to measure the distance with stunning accuracy.
Fifty years later, Alley’s device remains on the lunar surface and is still in use today. And because of it, we know the moon is slowly spiraling away from the earth.
At Alley’s alma mater, a new generation of scientists are reflecting on the anniversary of the moon landing.
Astrophysicist Dr. Jack Singal, a self-professed “space history nerd,” is still impressed by what was accomplished in 1969.
“The moon missions are all the more amazing when you consider the technology they had available at the time,” Singal said.
That is especially true given how primitive computers were at the time.
“They did so many hand calculations that now we would just do in the blink of an eye,” Singal said.
Singal is now looking forward to the future of space exploration, like a manned mission to Mars.
Alley died three years ago at the age of 88.
According to NASA, his retro-reflector is the only Apollo mission science experiment that is still running.
“The moon missions are still, 50 years later, the farthest that any human being has been from Earth,” Singal said.