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> The story of Flight-sapper and the debut of astronautics Issue: 2012-1 Section: 14-16



The story of Flight-sapper and the debut of astronautics


Daigo Tricomi


At first the fantastic factor prevailed but in 1874 the writer Jules Verne in his novel "From Earth to the Moon - direct route in 97 hours and 15 minutes", almost guessed the exact journey on which the first astronauts conquered Selene, in July 1969.

The attraction of the natural satellite of the Earth is as old as man.


In fact, history has shown that the initial enthusiasm has already fallen in the general indifference in the late '70s as a result of complex factors of interpretation: the routine trip from one planet to another, unfortunately, still belonged, almost half a century before Apollo 11, to the science fiction.

But following the crowd of early success, the boys of that time - the legendary '60s - lived immersed in a futuristic aura, where the conquest of space, interplanetary travel and the use of all resources of the solar system seemed to become a simple routine in a few decades time.

At that time, in fact, the Italian kids were traveling in the imaginary intergalactic space, fueling their fantasies thanks to TV dramas (ex. "A for Andromeda", "Space 1999") and being content to peer into the dark and mysterious sky. This is the background of the first moon-landing images, as they appeared on the screens of bulky television sets in the summer of 1969, contrasts of light and shadow and intense emotions, in that sultry July.

The landing on the moon, or rather the American moon landing of Apollo 11 spacecraft, which deposited the first man on Earth's satellite, under the astonished eyes of 600 million people following the event live on TV, was, in fact, July 20 to be exact 43 years ago. In Italy it was nearly 4 am (3:56 ÷ 2:56 UTC), 6 hours after the landing of the spacecraft Eagle, when Neil Armstrong began the dangerous descent to the surface: anyone with a television set had been up to see the legendary moon-walk!

But who liked to believe the existence of large swarms of insects living inside the large lunar craters, as suggested by Desiderius Papp in 1942, was disappointed: only dark basaltic rocks covered with shiny round beads, the "regolith".

It was during the climax of enthusiasm aircraft which was kicked off the "mark" of coins commemorating the event, including, typically Italian phenomenon, the collection of medals of "flight-sapper" distributed by Shell, known petrochemical company. Twenty subjects chronologically retraced the evolutionary history of the "flight" from the beginning to 1969, the mythological Icarus & Daedalus, to 'space hero Neil Armstrong, first man to set foot on the moon. The gold medals were strictly jammed in the holes of a booklet of burgundy cardboard.

In that period of holiday everybody went overboard, and then the kids looked forward to the time of refueling at the gas station on the coast. After a painful struggle between brothers and cousins in the car, packet contention in tissue paper, was so frantically discarded by the winner: the brilliant medal, just unveiled, fueling the dreams of young aspiring cosmonauts. Win a binder filled with 4 complete with 20 medals was practically a utopia. We had to settle for a piece "one-off" and a lot of duplication! Only those who had the privilege of being an only child could realistically yearn to complete the collection!

Here is the advertisement which appeared on the competition “Flight-story” on “Mickey Mouse” comic.

The comics were busy to feed the general enthusiasm...

But go into detail, and retrace the steps of "Flight-story", just as there were proposals in 1969:


Icarus & Daedalus

The first "flight-sappers" belong to the mythology. Prisoners in the labyrinth of Minos, Daedalus and his son Icarus tried to escape with artificial wings. Only Daedalus survives.


Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)

One of the largest and most versatile figures of the Renaissance. Leonardo had many brilliant insights into the "flying machines": even on the helicopter and on the parachute.


The Montgolfier brothers (Paris - 1753)

With a balloon built by the brothers Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier, were lifted the first “flight-sappers” in history: Pilatre de Rozier and the Marquis of Arlandes.


The Wright Brothers (Kitty Hawk, USA Dec. 1903)

First flight with airplane engine. Constructors and drivers, Wilbur and Orville Wright.


Louis Blériot (25 July 1909)

The French aviator Bleriot, with his monoplane, flying over the English Channel from Calais to Dover.


Alcock & Brown (June 1919)

First Atlantic crossing by plane land. The British Alcock and Whitten Brown, Vickers-Vimy biplane with, from Newfoundland to Ireland, in about 16 hours and half.


Charles Lindembergh (1927)

From New York to Paris non-stop, the daring flight Lindembergh happily ends in 33 hours. Lindembergh piloting the "Spirit of St. Louis", a robust Ryan monoplane.


Graf Zeppelin (1928)

The famous airship Graf Zeppelin (LZ-127) makes its first flight in 1928. In 9 years of service carries 13,110 passengers. In '29 goes around the world in 20 days, 4 hours and 14 minutes.


Auguste Piccard (27 May 1931)

First flight in the stratosphere. The Swiss scientist Auguste Piccard, with Paul Kipfer, reached the record altitude of 15,781 meters with his balloon.


Heinkel HE 178 (27 August 1939)

Flown by Erich Warsitz, the Heikel HE 178 (German) is the first jet device to soar.


Sikorsky VS-300 (September 1939)

First flight by helicopter. It 'a VS-300, designed in the United States by Russian Igor Sikorsky.


Bell XS-1 (14 October1947)

First supersonic flight. The plane-Bell XS-1 rocket, the U.S. Air Force, has driven by Charles E. Yeager. Speed: 1078 km / h at an altitude of 12,800 m.


De Havilland Comet (2 May 1952)

Havilland Comet, the first jet passenger plane, joined service.


Sputnik 1 (4 October 1957)

Russia opens the space era by Sputnik 1, the first artificial Earth satellite. It weighs 83.6 pounds and remain in orbit until the 1958 beginning.


Wernher Von Brown (31 January 1958)

A key figure of the entire U.S. space program The German scientist is particularly involved in the development of the Jupiter C rocket, which puts 31 January 1958 the first American satellite in orbit.


Yuri Gagarin (12 April 1961)

First manned flight into space. Yuri A. Gagarin makes an orbital flight around the Earth on the Soviet spacecraft Vostok 1. The flight lasted 108 minutes.


Leonov & Belyaev (18 March 1965)

Human first walk in space. Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov "exit" from the Voskhod 2 space capsule, attached to a rope, and floats in space for over 10 minutes. The travel companion is Pavel Belyaev.


Armstrong & Scott (16 March 1966)

First link between two spacecraft. The Gemini 8 with Neil Armstrong and David Scott on board, joined the Agena target rocket.


Apollo 8 (December 1968)

The first human flight around the moon. The Apollo 8 mission (starting December 21, six days after landing) has as its protagonists the astronauts: Borman, Lovell and Anders.


Moon! (20 July 1969)

Neil Armstrong was the first man to set foot on the moon. The other men of Apollo 11 are Aldrin and Collins.


Shell was not the only one to commemorate the event; each nation is mobilized, venturing to the minting of coins "Space" from America to the Soviet Union, the latter defeated antagonist (perhaps wrongly?) from the United States, in countdown to the lunar landing, in the wake of the "Cold War".


Here, some examples of thematic souvenir medals and pins, from Italy and around the world:


Edwin Aldrin - Michael Collins – Neil Armstrong - Apollo 11


Aldrin – Armstong – Collins 21 July 1969

(A data error? Well... It depends on Italian time!) By Rizzoli Editor - Sciltian – SAN


Edwin Aldrin - Michael Collins – Neil Armstrong

Panorama - 1969 Man on the Moon


Landing on the Moon E. Aldrin - N. Armstrong – M. Collins

21.7.1969 – 3:56:20 mez MMA925


Apollo 12 – November 1969


With the Apollo program, an ideal cycle has closed. This cycle opened in July 1969 with Neil Armstrong, commander of Apollo 11, and concluded in December 1972, with Eugene Cernan, commander of Apollo 17, respectively the first and the last astronaut to “walk”, as it were, on the lunar surface.


After the Apollo landings, the Americans plunged into a limbo of neglect, while the Soviets, in the throes of “revenge” retroactive devoted themselves to “unleash” mechanical probes (including Lunakhod), for the collection of lunar soil - Automatic last mission: the Moon-24 1976.


In fact, the very high costs which would involve this type of exploration, not justified by real benefits and expectations alleged, dampened enthusiasm of the both superpowers.


At the silence of the 80s, followed, but weighted with renewed interest, not popular, but restricted to a limited scientific elite, a variety of orbital missions involving new emerging global powers: it was almost always reconnaissance probes for “remote sensing” (ex. X rays) of the lunar surface, which included a lunar landing impact “destructive”, as without “back-rockets” slowing down the descent:

  • Probe Space-Hagoromo Hiten, launched January 24, 1990 from Japan; precipitated on the Moon - April 10, 1993.
  • Space probe SMART-1 European Space Agency (ESA), launched September 27, 2003, precipitated on the Moon - September 3, 2006.
  • Chandrayaan-1 space probe launched 22 October 2008 from the base of Srihakot (India) Aditya form (Moon Impact Probe) dropped by the probe and sent down on the Moon - 14 November 2008.
  • Space probe Chang'e 1's Republic of China, crashed on the Moon - March 1, 2009.


The absence of crew and its replacement by robotic equipment / computer has deprived these missions of that magical "pathos", involved "the masses" and characterized the legendary night of July 20, 1969, when the first man, in spite of the suspicion 'simulation', raised by so-called "conspiracy theories on lunar landings" [eg. "Theory of the fake Moon landing" by Bill Kaysing (1976) "Conspiracy Theory of the Moon" by Philippe Lheureux (2001)] - has left its "fingerprints" indelibly on the lunar surface.


And although NASA, headed by Michael Griffin, now already receives a stream of funding for the design and placement of a permanent base on the Moon, to be achieved by 2020, that enthusiasm of the "first time" of the year '60 is lacking.

Perhaps finally, albeit at a slow pace than expectations, the mythical dream materializes, after having been interplanetary placed in the drawer for 50 years? That this comes true form of "cosmos-reality" live satellite non-stop, or as a tour at the "5 moons" hotel for extravagant millionaires to search of excitement, it’s unimportant.


What matters is that this project is realized, in accordance with the time limits provided (half a century is too much!); And since we can hardly afford to travel "low cost" on the Moon, at least we book on the web the future commemorative medals "Moon base 2020" limited edition! And who knows... maybe the Shell, for the occasion, will pursue a new collection "Flight-story".



  • Giulio Verne – Dalla Terra alla Luna. Tipografia editrice lombarda, Milano (1874).
  • Desiderius Papp – Chi vive sulle stelle? Bompiani, Milano (1942)
  • Bill Kaysing, Randy Reid – We never went to the moon. America's Thirty Billion Dollar Swindle. Paperback, (1976).
  • William L. Brian – Moongate: suppressed findings of the U.S. space program:the NASA-military cover-up. Future Science Research Pub. Co.(1982).
  • Paolo Maffei – Non si alluna sulla Luna. L’astronomia, n.95, Milano (1990).
  • Mary Bennett, David S. Percy – Dark Moon: Apollo and the Whistle-Blowers. 558 S., London (1999), Ralph Rene – NASA Mooned America. 186 S., Passaic, New Jersey (1992).
  • Fabio Feminò – Astronautica: i sogni rimasti nel cassetto. L’astronomia, n.129, Milano (1993).
  • Bill Kaysing, Publio Liberi – Non siamo mai andati sulla luna. Una truffa da 30 miliardi di dollari. Cult Media Net Edizioni (1997).
  • Andrew Chaikin – A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts. Penguin Books, (1998).
  • James Papike, Grahm Ryder & Charles Shearer – Lunar Samples. Reviews in Mineralogy and Geochemistry 36: 5.1–5.234 (1998).
  • Philippe Lheureux – Lumières sur la Lune. Editions Carnot, (2000).
  • Bill Kaysing – We never went to the moon. America's Thirty Billion Dollar Swindle. Health Research Books (2002).
  • Philip Plait – Bad Astronomy: Misconception and Misures Revealed, from Astrology to the Moon Landing "Hoax". John Wiley & Sons, (2002).
  • Philippe Lheureux – Moon Landings: Did NASA Lie? 192 S., (2003)
  • Charles T. Hawkins – The Moon Landing Hoax. 285 S., New York (2004)
  • Longuski Jim – The seven secrets of how to think like a rocket scientist (2006).



  • All pictures have been taken the author’s personal collection