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The first experience on the moon was Swiss

NASA — Apollo 11 Mission patch.

July 19, 2019

A sensor developed by the University of Bern was the only non-American experiment on Apollo 11.

Before the American flag, a «Swiss» flag flew on the moon in the night of July 20 to 21, 1969: the «solar sail» developed by the University of Bern, which aimed to bring back particles of solar wind. The trip to the moon has also helped to better understand the sun.

Image above: Solar Wind Composition Experiment (SWC), deployed by Buz Aldrin. Image Credits: NASA/Apollo 11.

Time was counted on the surface of the moon. Hardly Edwin «Buzz» Aldrin had landed the lunar module «Eagle» he unrolled and planted in the ground the Solarwind Composition Experiment, designed by Professor Johannes Geiss at the Institute of Physics of the University of Bern . It was only four minutes later that the astronaut unfurled the American flag with Neil Armstrong.

The solar wind particle sensor, a sheet of aluminum that has undergone various treatments, was the only non-American experience on Apollo 11. A simple idea that convinced NASA also thanks to the low weight of the device.

The sheet collected particles for 77 minutes. For the first time, authentic solar materials were brought back to Earth and analyzed in laboratories in Zurich and Bern.

Impossible from Earth

It is indeed impossible to study the solar wind from Earth, the magnetic field repelling the particles. «The NASA lunar mission was a good opportunity to capture the solar wind out of the Earth’s magnetic field and thus to have a sample of the Sun,» Peter Wurz, University of Bern, Keystone-ATS told Reuters.

Image above: Solar Wind Composition Experiment (SWC) description (Apollo manual). Image Credit: NASA

The researchers were particularly interested in noble gases: «As they are extremely chemically stable, they give information on the beginnings of the solar system,» says Professor Wurz.

As far as the moon itself is concerned, the various Apollo missions have brought back more than 300 kilos of rocks and dust from our satellite. The University of Bern, an expert in meteorite dating and analysis by mass spectrometry, was one of the few institutions in Europe to be involved in this research from the beginning.

In quarantine

The equipment was first quarantined, remembers Otto Eugster, long in charge of coordinating with NASA. «We did not know if the lunar rocks contained dangerous elements, for example bacteria that could have infected the Earth,» he says.

Image above: Solar Wind Composition Experiment (SWC) during its deployment by Buz Aldrin. Image Credits: NASA/Apollo 11. 

«We gave them to eat mice, they even liked that and had no problem,» says the physicist. Other analyzes quickly showed that there was no trace of life on the moon.

No new items were found, but then unknown minerals. One of them was named Armalcolite, a contraction of the names of the three astronauts Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins.

Again in the viewfinder

In recent years, the Moon is again in the sights of space agencies, including American and Chinese. According to Professor Eugster, this could be due to helium-3, an isotope 300 times more present on the Moon than on Earth and could be exploited as a source of energy.

Apollo 11: «First Moonwalk on TV», First Men on the Moon

The Moon could also become an intermediate step for future missions to Mars, the specialist adds. Given its small gravitational field, it would require much less energy than leaving the Earth. One could also install on the dark side of the Moon telescopes that would not be disturbed by terrestrial radio waves.

In general, there is still much to discover on the Moon. The Apollo missions have all aluni around the equator and on the face facing the Earth. Even including the probes, it is estimated that only one twentieth of the Moon’s surface has been directly studied.

Bern always part

The University of Bern will be involved in future lunar exploration missions, including that planned for 2024 by the Russian agency Roscosmos, says Professor Wurz. Participation in the Chinese mission «Chang’e 6», also in 2024, is under discussion.

Image above: Solar Wind Composition Experiment (SWC), developed by the University of Bern. Image Credit: Universität Bern.

The same year, NASA plans to send humans back to the moon, including the first woman, and again the Bernese alma mater is on the line. «But we are just at the beginning of the discussions,» concludes Peter Wurz.

Swiss solar sail on the Moon

Just 50 years ago, the first steps on the Moon also marked one of the first achievements of the University of Bern in the space field. To celebrate the event, Swissmint issues a new 20-franc silver coin. Initially sketched in pencil by the engraver Swissmint Remo Mascherini, the pattern of the piece was then reworked numerically. As part of the Apollo 11 mission, Edwin Aldrin and Neil Armstrong were the first men to walk on the moon on July 21, 1969. The only non-American experience aboard the lunar module, the solar sail of the University of Bern, was installed by Buzz Aldrin even before he raised the American flag.

Swissmint Apollo 11, commemorative coin of 50 years. Image Credit: Swissmint

The Solar Wind Composition Experiment (SWC) was developed by the Bernese physicists surrounding Professor Johannes Geiss at the Institute of Physics at the University of Bern. Its purpose was to verify the presence of the solar wind, whose existence was suspected but that could not be measured from Earth. The simplicity of the experience and the low weight of the craft had convinced the NASA space agency.

Related links:

Solar Wind Composition Experiment (SWC): https://www.lpi.usra.edu/lunar/missions/apollo/apollo_11/experiments/swc/

University of Bern: https://www.unibe.ch/index_eng.html

Swissmint: https://www.swissmint.ch/

Apollo: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/apollo/index.html

Apollo 11: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/apollo/apollo-11.html

Images (mentioned), Video (NASA), Text, Credits: Reuters/ATS/Orbiter.ch Aerospace/Roland Berga.

Best regards, Orbiter.chArchive link

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