To the Moon and back

To the Moon and back - space technology driving life on earth

16 August 2019



If you are old enough to remember watching the Moon landing on your black and white television in 1969, you will remember it as a defining moment in our history.

Fast forward 50 years and you may be surprised at just how defining it was in terms of the effect on our everyday lives.


The Apollo missions may not have resulted in the space living or tourism predicted in science fiction novels and television shows, but they’ve had a profound long-term effect on life on Earth.


The rapid advancement of technology that landed a person on the Moon also led to accelerated development of much of the technology we now take for granted in most aspects of our lives, including mobile phones, home computers, social media networks and satellite communications.


And the NASA program that culminated in the Moon landing also set the scene for the GPS navigation system millions of people now rely on to find their way around.


One giant leap for mankind


Initially aimed at determining the distance between Earth and the Moon, the lunar laser retroreflector Buzz Aldrin left on the Moon in 1969 was one of three scientific experiments conducted by the Apollo 11 astronauts.

Buzz Aldrin moon landing


Scientists fired an infrared laser beam at the reflector on the Moon, measured how long it took the infrared light to reflect back to Earth, and then measured the influences of gravitational forces and differences in the speed of time at both locations.


Their findings supported Einstein’s theory of general relativity, i.e., the closer you are to a heavy mass like earth, the slower time moves for you, meaning that a clock on a satellite orbiting the Earth will run faster than one on the ground.


The knowledge gained from this experiment enabled scientists and astrophysicists to accurately measure the distance between the Earth and the Moon, along with many other important measurements.


Positioning the way we communicate, navigate and receive information


It is this knowledge that led to the rapid development of satellite technology, including the Global Positioning System, or GPS as it’s more commonly known.


While GPS was first developed by the US Military in the early 1960s, the advances in technology based on the Moon landing allowed scientists to account for the difference in time’s speed between the Earth and satellites, allowing GPS as we know it today to be possible.


First made available for the world to use in the mid-1990s, GPS not only gets us from A to B via navigational aids on our smartphones or other devices, but also supports transport and electricity grids, financial systems and provides information on our climate.  


Hydro’s guide to the galaxy


So you may be wondering what all of this has to do with Hydro Tasmania.


Well, like the rest of the world, we also rely on GPS to help us in our day-to-day operations.


As well as the obvious example of finding our way around, satellite technology and GPS are important tools to help some of our staff do their jobs.


It helps us to understand how our dams are operating and to provide valuable location information when we need to upgrade a power station, penstocks, roads or bridges, as well as assisting in the collection of data.


And, while most of us take modern technology for granted, we recognises the importance of the science behind it all.


Treasure hunting the scientific way


As part of our education outreach program Generation Hydro and National Science Week, we have taken on the complex history of space exploration and how it has shaped our technology and changed the way we work.

Generation Hydro Satellite building

We’ve held workshops in schools and at the Festival of Bright Ideas, demonstrating to students precisely how GPS works, as they attempt to find hidden Hydro treasure using trilateration – the same method used by GPS satellites and receivers to locate a pretty accurate position.


Students have also had the chance to build a satellite from craft objects or take away a press-out satellite.


Our Education Coordinator Gina Harvey said learning how things work and seeing the technology firsthand not only helps them to develop an understanding of the modern world, but also their place in it

 

“We at Hydro Tasmania are passionate about science and its effect on our lives,” she said.

“We want to share that with our young people and inspire them to see the endless possibilities that come from challenging ourselves and seeking answers to life’s mysteries.”

 

 

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