COMMENT: This weekend many around the world is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. That includes Rocket Lab founder and chief executive Peter Beck who writes of the successful mission, how its memory lives on at Rocket Lab and where to next.
There are few events in human history that you can point to and say almost everyone around the globe felt a sense of achievement and ownership. Fifty years ago this month, one of these events took place when two men, supported by an army of engineers and scientists, stepped gingerly onto Earth's Moon.
In what I saw as poor timing on my parents' behalf, I was not yet born when this historic moment took place.
The Apollo 11 Moon landing, and subsequent Apollo missions, were simply an omnipresent part of space culture for me growing up. They were regarded as the pinnacle of what had been achieved in space so far, but not being alive when it all took place meant I never got to feel the raw emotion of being part of the experience.
I've never lived in a world where humanity hasn't set foot on the Moon, so understanding the magnitude of crossing that divide wasn't a formative part of my passion for space and rocketry.
Then, at age 25, I went to Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral.
The Saturn V rockets that hurtled the Apollo astronauts to the Moon's surface stood at 111m tall. For context, Rocket Lab's Electron rocket is just 18m. Even with good shoes on, I personally don't hit the 2m mark.
So when I stood at the foot of that Saturn V rocket on display at Kennedy Space Center, it really hit me. The enormity of what this group of humans had done, what they had banded together to achieve. Until that point, I thought I understood the complexity of what it took to send humans to the Moon and I can tell you that I most certainly did not.
A lot of emphasis is placed on the three astronauts who were launched into the Moon's orbit in 1969, including the two who actually set foot on the Moon's surface; Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. And they deserve all that recognition, they do.
Strapping yourself to a set of engines producing 7.5 million pounds of thrust and hurtling yourself 384,400km away to an environment hostile to humans is something you'd hope the history books took a few notes on. But the thing about the Moon landings that really struck me was the sheer magnitude of the team effort behind the project.
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At its peak, the Apollo programme employed 400,000 people and required support from more than 20,000 industrial firms and universities – all working towards a common goal.
This was teamwork, vision, collaboration and sheer tenacity on a new scale, and that's what inspired me most.
More inspiring still is what that common goal meant to everyone on Earth, not just those involved in the programme. It unified people in a way that almost nothing else has, and it continues to today. We feel like we went to the Moon – like humanity went – not just a nation. A whole species felt and continues to feel part of a collective success.
Fifty years later, we still hang onto that sense of pride and ownership.
If you look beyond the rockets, the systems and the sheer volume of people it took to successfully pull off the Moon landings, there's another lesson that's often overlooked.
It's that the most complex and technically advanced feat in human history was pulled off, and least in part, by people in their 20s. The average age of mission controllers for Apollo 11 was just 26. Think about the bravery of the young minds that designed the lunar ascent engine, knowing that it had to work because lives hung in the balance . . . and the entire world was watching to boot. And it had to work in an environment that they knew next to very little about.
Remember that when Neil Armstrong first set foot on the lunar surface, engineers didn't know whether the Moon's surface was even solid, so they were working with few known quantities.
The successes of the Apollo 11 engineers and controllers serves as a constant reminder to me of what young people can achieve if given the responsibility. It's a theory I've been able to test personally, having launched our first mission to orbit with a mission control full of people in their twenties.
The rbital equations developed then are the same ones that we use now.
The calls made in Rocket Lab's mission control are what you'd expect to hear in audio from the Apollo programme (granted, the New Zealand accents are a new addition). The Apollo mission laid the foundation for others to follow, including Rocket Lab.
Around the time I realised the magnitude of what was achieved by the Apollo programme, was around the time I thought the greatest era of space exploration had passed. The 1960s and 70s were an era of pure exploration. The public adored space, federal funding flowed into Nasa's coffers and the world was learning so much about this mysterious place that starts just 100km above us and stretches on endlessly.
I always thought I missed out on the best era in space because I wasn't around in the Apollo days, but I've come to realise we're in a wildly exciting new era right now – one where space is no longer the domain of just governments, but is accessible by everyone.
Today, it's possible for businesses, research organisations, universities and even high schools to build their own satellites and send them into orbit. The possibilities that opens up for innovation, research and exploration are almost endless.
In that past year, we've launched a satellite not much bigger than a mobile phone, that provides global connectivity to sensors on the ground. It's a capability that enables organisations to monitor everything from beehives in remote bush locations, through to water troughs on stations in the Outback. It's even enabling connectivity to a deep-water sensor on the Great Barrier Reef that provides real-time data on water quality and temperature to map the effects of climate change.
We've also launched satellites built by university students to test new materials in space, as well as satellites built by a start-up focused on providing more accurate data to planes flying through stormy skies.
The Apollo 11 mission gave the world a single pivotal moment to cheer for - a central event for everyone to watch, hold their breath for, and celebrate in unison.
Today's space age is more dispersed over thousands of projects in many countries, ranging from enormous efforts to send people to Mars, through to efforts by school students to send tiny satellites to space. In 2018 alone, there were more than 100 orbital rocket launches globally, with many more hundreds of satellites deployed.
In just 50 years, we've all become dependent on the technology launched on these missions, from the GPS data we access every time we open up Google Maps, to the TV signal we use to watch the Cricket World Cup. As space, or at least the services provided from it, has become part of our everyday lives, some of that magic and excitement has waned.
As we hit 50 years since humans first landed on the moon, we have more to be excited for than ever before when it comes to space exploration.
Every modern mission is a triumph of innovation, every project worthy of celebration and every individual contributing to space projects is shaping the future.
While they might not get the public adoration and fanfare experienced in 1969, these missions and people inspire me just as much as the Apollo era.