One Small Step for Experimental Space Gear. Many Giant Leaps of Imagination.

[Read all Times reporting on the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. | Sign up for the weekly Science Times email.]

A Chinese philosopher once said that exploration was a form of play. So it is fitting that the early artifacts of the Apollo moon landings, the grandest feat of exploration ever attempted, resemble nothing so much as toys. They are expressions in miniature of giant aspirations, reminders of how engineers play and imagine the future.

Naturally, toy spaceships wouldn’t be complete without little lunar landscapes to place them on, or astronaut dolls to ride in them. But these toys had a serious purpose. For protection against the rigors of high Gs during launch and re-entry, test pilots and astronauts sat on couches that were custom-made to fit their bodies. Lined up, the molds for the couches look for all the world as if the pilots have assumed the position for a spanking.

At the time, nobody knew what it would be like to walk in a spacesuit in the trampoline-like low gravity of the moon, or to drive the trackless wastes of lunar grit and boulders. The space age was young, and we were kids with a cosmic gleam in our eyes.

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