How Did We Get Back From the Moon: Exploring the Historic Return Journey

In the summer of 1969, humanity achieved an astonishing feat – for the first time in history, we set foot on the surface of the moon. The Apollo 11 mission, led by astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins, marked a pivotal moment for space exploration and the culmination of years of research, innovation, and determination. However, what often goes overlooked is the equally momentous achievement of returning safely back to Earth. This article will delve into the historic return journey from the moon, exploring the challenges faced by the astronauts and the remarkable technology and strategies employed to bring them home.

Returning from the moon was no easy task. The Apollo 11 mission had captivated the world as Armstrong and Aldrin took those legendary first steps on the lunar surface, but the return journey was riddled with uncertainty and potential hazards. The prevailing question was whether the spacecraft would endure the immense reentry forces and successfully navigate the Earth’s atmosphere. In order to understand the complexities of this return journey, it is essential to delve into the technical aspects of the Apollo program, the role of mission control, and the daring decisions made by NASA to ensure the safe return of the astronauts.

IPreparations for the Return Journey

A. Gathering moon surface samples and conducting experiments

Before embarking on the return journey from the moon, the astronauts had the important task of collecting samples of the moon’s surface. These samples provided valuable information about the moon’s geology, composition, and history. The astronauts used tools such as rock hammers and scoops to gather these samples.

In addition to collecting samples, the astronauts also conducted various experiments during their time on the moon. They deployed scientific instruments to measure things like seismic activity and the presence of lunar dust. These experiments helped scientists better understand the moon and its environment.

B. Packing and securing samples/valuables for the return trip

After collecting the moon surface samples and completing their experiments, the astronauts had to carefully pack and secure these valuable items for the return trip to Earth. The samples needed to be protected from contamination and damage during the journey.

Special containers were used to store the samples, ensuring that they would remain intact and uncontaminated. The containers were designed to withstand the harsh conditions of space travel and re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere. The astronauts took great care in packaging the samples, knowing that they held immense scientific value.

In addition to the moon surface samples, the astronauts also had to secure other valuables for the return journey. These included important data and research findings, as well as personal mementos and souvenirs. Each astronaut had a small personal preference kit in which they could pack a few personal items to take back home.

Overall, the preparations for the return journey from the moon involved meticulous planning and attention to detail. The astronauts had to make sure that everything was properly packed and secured to ensure the safe transport of both scientific samples and personal items. These preparations were crucial in preserving the integrity of the mission’s findings and allowing for further analysis and study upon their return to Earth.

IPreparations for the Return Journey

A. Gathering moon surface samples and conducting experiments

Before leaving the lunar surface, the Apollo astronauts had a critical task at hand – collecting samples and conducting experiments. This was a crucial part of the mission as it provided valuable scientific data and insights into the moon’s geology and composition.

During their moonwalks, the astronauts used specialized tools and equipment to gather samples of rock, soil, and dust from various locations. These samples were carefully collected and stored in specially designed containers to prevent contamination. The astronauts also set up experiments to measure properties such as seismic activity and the solar wind.

The collection of these samples and the performance of experiments were meticulously planned and executed to maximize the scientific return of the mission. The samples would later be analyzed by scientists on Earth, providing a wealth of information about the moon’s history and its relationship to Earth.

B. Packing and securing samples/valuables for the return trip

After the samples and experiment data were collected, the astronauts had to carefully package and secure them for the journey back to Earth. This process was crucial to ensure that the valuable scientific payload would survive the harsh re-entry and landing conditions.

The samples were sealed in airtight containers and stored in protective bags to prevent any accidental contamination or damage. The astronauts also took steps to secure any other valuable items, such as film footage and personal mementos, that they had brought with them to the moon.

Once everything was packed and secured, the astronauts transferred the samples and other items to the ascent stage of the lunar module, which would serve as their transportation back to the command module in orbit. This was a delicate process, as any mishandling could result in damage or loss of the scientific materials.

The meticulous preparation and packaging of these samples and valuables ensured that their scientific and historical significance would be preserved for future generations. They provided a tangible connection to the lunar surface and the historic journey that had taken place.

Overall, the preparations for the return journey involved not only gathering valuable scientific data but also securing and preserving the samples and other items that would provide valuable insights and mementos of this historic mission. These preparations set the stage for the next phase of the journey – the ascent from the lunar surface and rendezvous with the command module.

Apollo Lunar Module: Ascent into Orbit

The Apollo Lunar Module (LM) played a crucial role in the return journey from the moon. This section will provide a description of the ascent stage of the lunar module and highlight the crew’s boarding and lift-off from the lunar surface.

Description of the Ascent Stage

The ascent stage of the lunar module was the portion that carried the astronauts back to lunar orbit. It was a small, cone-shaped vehicle located on top of the descent stage, which remained on the moon’s surface. The ascent stage contained the necessary propulsion system and life support equipment for the journey back to the command module.

With a height of about 3.9 meters and a diameter of approximately 4.3 meters, the ascent stage provided a cramped but functional living space for the astronauts. It was equipped with controls and instruments required for navigation, including guidance computers, radar, and communications equipment.

Crew Boarding and Lift-off

Before leaving the lunar surface, the Apollo astronauts had to board the ascent stage of the lunar module. This process involved climbing up a ladder located on the lunar module, which required careful movements in the low lunar gravity.

Once inside the LM, the astronauts prepared for lift-off by ensuring all systems were functioning properly and engaging the ascent engine. The ascent engine, powered by hypergolic fuel, provided the thrust necessary to leave the moon’s surface and enter lunar orbit.

When everything was ready, the crew initiated the lift-off sequence. The ascent engine fired, producing a force that propelled the LM off the lunar surface. As the lunar module ascended, it left behind the descent stage, which had served its purpose and was no longer needed.

Once the lunar module reached an altitude of approximately 15 kilometers, it performed a delicate maneuver called the “rendezvous and docking” with the command module, which was orbiting the moon. This marked a critical step in the return journey, as the astronauts would transfer from the lunar module to the command module for the final leg back to Earth.

In conclusion, the ascent stage of the Apollo Lunar Module played a vital role in enabling the return journey from the moon. Its compact design and powerful ascent engine allowed the astronauts to leave the lunar surface successfully and rendezvous with the command module, paving the way for a safe return home.

Docking with the Command Module

Process of rendezvous and docking

After the successful moon landing and the completion of their mission on the lunar surface, the next crucial step for the Apollo astronauts was to rendezvous and dock with the Command Module in lunar orbit. This was a complex and delicate procedure that required precise execution to ensure a safe return journey back to Earth.

Rendezvous involved the Lunar Module (LM) ascending from the moon’s surface to reach the desired orbit where the Command Module (CM) awaited. The ascent stage of the LM was responsible for this task. Once in orbit, the astronauts on the LM had to carefully maneuver the spacecraft to align with the CM’s docking port.

Docking itself involved the physical connection between the LM and the CM in order to transfer the astronauts and the valuable moon samples from the LM to the CM for the return journey. The docking mechanism consisted of a probe on the CM that would be inserted into a drogue on the LM to create a secure connection.

Challenges faced during the docking procedure

Docking in space presented several challenges for the Apollo astronauts. One of the main difficulties was the need for precise maneuvers to align the two spacecraft in the vastness of space. Any miscalculation or error in the rendezvous and docking process could result in a failed mission or, worse, the loss of the astronauts’ lives.

The astronauts had to rely on their training and the guidance provided by ground control to navigate the complexities of the docking procedure. They had to account for factors such as the relative motion, velocities, and distances between the two spacecraft, adjusting their trajectories accordingly.

Additionally, the docking had to take place in a vacuum and under microgravity conditions, which required the astronauts to master the nuances of controlling the spacecraft without the assistance of gravity. The precision required for a successful dock made this a particularly tense and critical phase of the return journey.

Despite the challenges, the Apollo missions were able to achieve successful dockings, ensuring the safe transfer of the astronauts and the lunar samples back to Earth. The docking procedures developed and perfected during these missions laid the foundation for future space endeavors, establishing the groundwork for rendezvous and docking procedures utilized in subsequent missions, such as those of the Space Shuttle program.

The successful completion of the docking procedure marked a significant milestone in the return journey from the moon, bringing the astronauts one step closer to safely returning home and completing their historic mission.

Farewell to the Lunar Module

A. Importance of leaving the lunar module behind

As the Apollo astronauts prepared for their return journey from the moon, one of the bittersweet moments they faced was saying goodbye to the lunar module (LM). The LM served as their home on the moon’s surface and played a crucial role in the successful moon landing.

Leaving the LM behind was essential for several reasons. Firstly, the LM’s descent stage, which contained the landing gear and engines, was not designed for liftoff from the moon. It was necessary to separate the ascent stage, which contained the crew cabin and the powerful ascent engine, from the descent stage, which would remain on the lunar surface. This allowed the astronauts to make a safe and controlled return to Earth.

Secondly, leaving the LM behind provided valuable data for future missions. The descent stage housed scientific equipment, including seismometers and lunar surface experiments. By leaving these instruments on the moon, scientists could continue collecting data long after the astronauts had returned to Earth. This contributed to a greater understanding of the moon’s geology, seismic activity, and other aspects of lunar science.

Lastly, leaving the LM behind symbolized a transition in human space exploration. The LM represented the culmination of years of scientific research and technological advancements. By leaving it on the moon, the astronauts were marking the end of a chapter in history, signaling the completion of a remarkable feat for humanity.

B. Emotional moments during the separation from the descent stage

The separation from the descent stage of the LM was an emotional moment for the astronauts. Looking back at the small, spidery structure that had carried them safely to the moon’s surface, they couldn’t help but feel a sense of gratitude and nostalgia.

Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and other astronauts who had the privilege of standing on the moon’s surface shared their personal reflections during this farewell. They marveled at the LM’s capabilities and how it had performed flawlessly in the hostile lunar environment. They expressed gratitude for the dedication and hard work of countless scientists, engineers, and technicians who made the LM and the entire Apollo mission possible.

The emotional farewell also served as a reminder of the dangers and challenges of space exploration. The LM had been their lifeline on the moon, and now they were leaving it behind, trusting that the remaining stages of the mission would be successful. It was a poignant moment of reflection on the risks they had taken and the sacrifices made by all those involved in the Apollo program.

As the ascent stage of the LM lifted off from the moon’s surface, the astronauts turned their attention toward the return journey. They knew that the historic feats they had accomplished would forever be etched in history. Farewell to the lunar module marked the beginning of a new chapter, as they set their sights on re-entry, splashdown, recovery, and ultimately, their triumphant return home.

Spacecraft Re-entry

A. Heat shield protection and precautions

B. Challenges faced during the re-entry process

The return journey from the moon was just as critical as the successful lunar landing. After collecting moon surface samples and conducting experiments, the astronauts had to prepare for their journey back to Earth. This section will delve into the challenges faced during the spacecraft re-entry and the precautions taken to ensure a safe return.

A. Heat shield protection and precautions

One of the most crucial aspects of the return journey was the protection of the spacecraft during re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. As the spacecraft re-entered the atmosphere, it experienced extreme temperatures of up to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit. To withstand this heat, a heat shield made of materials such as ablative heat-resistant composites was installed on the spacecraft. This shield absorbed and dissipated the heat, preventing it from reaching the astronauts inside. Without this protective measure, the spacecraft would have been incinerated during re-entry.

In addition to the heat shield, astronauts also took precautions to ensure their safety. They wore specialized suits that provided thermal protection and had cooling systems to regulate their body temperature. These suits also protected them from the impact forces during splashdown.

B. Challenges faced during the re-entry process

Re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere posed several challenges for the astronauts. One significant challenge was the intense aerodynamic forces experienced by the spacecraft. As it traveled through the atmosphere at high speeds, the forces acting on the spacecraft put immense pressure on its structure. The astronauts had to endure these forces, which could cause vibrations and potentially jeopardize the integrity of the spacecraft.

Another challenge was the precise angle of re-entry. If the angle was too steep, the spacecraft could bounce off the atmosphere and be propelled back into space. Conversely, if the angle was too shallow, the spacecraft could burn up due to prolonged exposure to the heat. Calculating the optimal angle of re-entry required careful planning and precise calculations to ensure a successful return.

Despite these challenges, the Apollo missions managed to navigate the re-entry process successfully. The astronauts safely returned to Earth, thanks to the meticulous planning and precautions taken by NASA.

In conclusion, the spacecraft re-entry phase was a critical part of the return journey from the moon. The heat shield protection and precautions taken by the astronauts ensured their safe return. Overcoming the challenges of intense heat and aerodynamic forces, the Apollo missions successfully brought the astronauts back to Earth, marking the end of a historic journey.

Splashdown and Recovery

Landing site selection and considerations

After a successful journey back from the moon, the astronauts aboard the Apollo spacecraft faced the daunting task of safely returning to Earth. One of the crucial aspects of this return journey was selecting an appropriate landing site.

The location for splashdown needed to meet several criteria. First and foremost, it had to be a body of water large enough to accommodate the splashdown and the subsequent retrieval of the spacecraft by recovery teams. The prime recovery landing site for Apollo missions was usually in the Pacific Ocean, close to the coast of California. This choice offered a sufficient expanse of water, reducing the risk of any potential impact with land and ensuring a safe environment for recovery operations.

The selection process also took into consideration other factors such as weather conditions. Ideally, calm seas and minimal wind were desired to facilitate the recovery process. NASA closely monitored weather patterns and used various models and forecasting techniques to determine the most suitable time and location for splashdown.

Successful splashdown and retrieval by recovery teams

Once the landing site was determined, the final stages of the return journey began. As the Apollo spacecraft reentered the Earth’s atmosphere, it experienced extreme heat due to atmospheric friction. The heat shield, a critical component of the spacecraft, protected the astronauts from the intense temperatures generated during reentry.

After surviving the intense heat, the spacecraft deployed parachutes to slow its descent. These parachutes, along with the necessary water landing aids, helped ensure a safe and controlled splashdown in the designated area. The astronauts inside the capsule would experience a sudden deceleration upon impact with the water.

In preparation for recovery, specially-trained teams of Navy personnel and divers were deployed to the landing site. Equipped with helicopters, aircraft, and ships, these teams were responsible for quickly reaching the capsule and providing assistance to the returning astronauts.

Upon reaching the capsule, the recovery teams would secure the spacecraft, stabilize it, and initiate the process of recovering the astronauts. The teams carefully opened the spacecraft hatch and assisted the crew members in exiting the capsule. Medical personnel were on hand to provide immediate medical evaluation and attend to any health concerns the astronauts may have had.

The successful splashdown and retrieval of the Apollo spacecraft marked the triumphant conclusion to the arduous return journey from the moon. It showcased the meticulous planning and execution by NASA and the recovery teams, ensuring the safe return of the astronauts and the valuable lunar samples they had collected.

Overall, the splashdown and recovery phase of the mission demonstrated the remarkable capabilities of NASA and its partners in space exploration. It was a testament to the dedication and expertise of the teams involved in bringing the astronauts back home, further solidifying the Apollo missions as a monumental achievement in human history.

Medical Evaluations and Quarantine

A. Health assessments upon returning to Earth

After the successful splashdown and recovery of the astronauts, their journey was far from over. Upon returning to Earth, the crew members underwent rigorous medical evaluations to assess their health and well-being. These evaluations were crucial in providing valuable insights into the effects of space travel on the human body.

The assessments included various tests and examinations, such as cardiovascular and musculoskeletal evaluations, to monitor the astronauts’ vital signs and physical condition. The purpose of these evaluations was to ensure that they had not experienced any adverse effects during their time in space.

Furthermore, the medical evaluations also aimed to gather data on how the human body adapts to the microgravity environment of space. By studying the physiological changes that occur during space travel, scientists hoped to gain a better understanding of the long-term effects of spaceflight and develop effective countermeasures to mitigate potential health risks.

B. Implementation of quarantine measures due to potential lunar pathogens

One unique aspect of the post-mission procedures following the return journey from the moon was the implementation of quarantine measures. This was done due to concerns about the possibility of the astronauts bringing back any potentially harmful lunar pathogens.

To prevent the spread of these unknown pathogens, the crew members were immediately placed in quarantine upon their arrival on Earth. They were housed in a specially designed isolation facility called the Lunar Receiving Laboratory (LRL) located at NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center. The LRL was a highly controlled environment that allowed scientists to closely monitor the astronauts and any potential lunar material.

During the quarantine period, which lasted for about three weeks, the astronauts were kept under constant surveillance, and they underwent regular medical examinations and testing. Any lunar samples or other materials brought back from the moon were also thoroughly examined and analyzed for potential hazards.

The quarantine measures were eventually lifted once it was determined that the astronauts and the lunar samples posed no significant health risks. These measures were important in ensuring the safety of not only the astronauts but also the general population. The precautionary approach taken during the quarantine period helped to establish protocols and procedures for future space missions, contributing to the overall safety and success of human space exploration endeavors.

In conclusion, the medical evaluations and quarantine measures following the return journey from the moon played a vital role in safeguarding the health of the astronauts and preventing the potential spread of lunar pathogens. The valuable data gathered from the health assessments furthered our understanding of the effects of space travel on the human body and paved the way for safer and more successful future missions.

X. Retrospective Reflections

A. Milestones achieved during the return journey

As the Apollo missions successfully brought human beings to the moon and back, the return journey marked several significant milestones in space exploration. One of the most notable achievements was the safe and successful landing of the Lunar Module on the lunar surface. This monumental feat demonstrated the extraordinary capabilities of the Apollo spacecraft and the expertise of the astronauts involved. The lunar landing also opened up a new era of space exploration, paving the way for future missions to explore other celestial bodies.

Furthermore, the return journey showcased the remarkable advancements in space technology and engineering. The docking between the Lunar Module and the Command Module was a critical accomplishment, as it allowed the astronauts to transfer from the lunar surface back to the spacecraft that would carry them home. The process of rendezvous and docking required precise calculations and intricate maneuvers, which were executed flawlessly by the astronauts and mission control.

B. Importance of the mission and its impact on space exploration

The return journey from the moon holds immense significance in the history of space exploration. It marked the culmination of years of research, planning, and scientific endeavors. The successful completion of the mission not only demonstrated the technological capabilities of NASA and the United States but also showcased human achievement on a global scale.

The Apollo missions inspired generations of scientists, engineers, and astronauts, paving the way for further advancements in space exploration. The return journey from the moon acted as a catalyst for future missions, including the development of the International Space Station (ISS) and ongoing missions to Mars and beyond. It instilled a sense of awe and wonder about the vast expanse of the universe and our place within it.

The mission also had profound implications for humanity’s understanding of the moon and its potential as a future base for further scientific research and space exploration. The gathering of moon surface samples and conducting experiments during the return journey provided invaluable scientific data that continues to be studied and analyzed to this day. The samples brought back by the Apollo astronauts have provided insights into the moon’s formation, geological history, and the broader understanding of our solar system.

In conclusion, the return journey from the moon was a historic achievement that marked a turning point in human potential and exploration. It demonstrated mankind’s ability to reach the moon and safely return, while also laying the foundation for future missions to explore new frontiers. The milestones achieved in the return journey continue to inspire and push the boundaries of space exploration, ensuring that humanity will continue to reach for the stars.

Ongoing Space Exploration Efforts

A. Continuous advancements in space technology

Since the Apollo missions and the historic return journey from the moon, space exploration efforts have continued to advance, propelling humanity further into the cosmos. Scientific and technological advancements have made it possible to explore space with increasing precision and efficiency.

One significant advancement is the development of more advanced spacecraft and propulsion systems. The Apollo missions relied on the Saturn V rocket and the Lunar Module for transportation, but today, spacecraft like SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy and NASA’s Orion spacecraft are being designed and tested for future missions. These new spacecraft will allow for more ambitious manned missions, such as plans to return to the moon and even explore Mars.

Furthermore, advancements in space telescopes and observatories have greatly expanded our knowledge of the universe. The Hubble Space Telescope, launched in 1990, has been instrumental in capturing stunning images of distant celestial objects and gathering data that has revolutionized our understanding of the cosmos. In recent years, new missions like the James Webb Space Telescope, set to launch in 2021, promise to push the boundaries of our knowledge even further.

B. Plans for future lunar missions and beyond

The return journey from the moon laid the foundation for future lunar missions and paved the way for the exploration of other celestial bodies. NASA, alongside international partners like the European Space Agency and private companies, has set its sights on returning humans to the moon with the Artemis program. This program aims to land astronauts, including the first woman, on the lunar surface by 2024.

Beyond the moon, NASA’s long-term goal is to send astronauts to Mars, a feat that will mark a significant milestone in human space exploration. This ambitious endeavor requires meticulous planning, technological advancements, and international collaboration. NASA is currently developing the necessary technologies, such as the Space Launch System (SLS) and the Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV), to make this mission a reality.

Private companies have also joined the race to explore space. SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk, aspires to send humans to Mars and establish a self-sustaining colony. Their Starship spacecraft, currently under development, aims to revolutionize space travel by enabling large-scale exploration and colonization of other planets.

In conclusion, the return journey from the moon not only brought immense pride and accomplishment to humanity but also served as a catalyst for ongoing space exploration efforts. Continuous advancements in space technology and ambitious plans for future lunar missions and beyond highlight our relentless quest to push the boundaries of human exploration and understanding of the universe. As we continue to explore the cosmos, the lessons learned during the Apollo missions will undoubtedly serve as a guiding light, inspiring future generations to reach for the stars.


A. Recap of the return journey from the moon

The return journey from the moon marked the culmination of the Apollo missions, an extraordinary series of endeavors that aimed to explore the lunar surface and push the boundaries of human achievement. After successfully completing their lunar landing, astronauts embarked on the challenging task of returning back to Earth.

The return journey commenced with the preparations necessary to ensure a safe and secure return. This involved gathering moon surface samples and conducting experiments, as well as packing and securing the valuable samples for the return trip. It was crucial to collect these specimens to gain a deeper understanding of the moon’s geology and to unlock the secrets of the universe.

Once preparations were completed, the ascent stage of the Apollo Lunar Module was utilized to lift off from the lunar surface. This intricate process involved the crew boarding the module and bidding farewell to the lunar module, leaving behind the descent stage on the moon’s surface. Emotional moments accompanied the separation from the descent stage, as the astronauts looked back at the vehicle that had facilitated their historic mission.

The next significant stage was the rendezvous and docking with the Command Module. This phase came with its own set of challenges, including precise maneuvering and synchronization to dock safely. Successfully accomplishing this step was critical for reuniting with the Command Module and eventually returning to Earth.

Following the docking, the spacecraft embarked on the re-entry process. The heat shield protection played a vital role in safeguarding the crew from the intense heat generated during the journey through Earth’s atmosphere. A series of challenges were faced during re-entry, but the spacecraft successfully endured the atmospheric forces and made its way towards splashdown.

The landing site had to be carefully selected and considerations were made to ensure a safe and successful splashdown. Once the spacecraft touched down in the ocean, recovery teams were deployed to retrieve the crew and bring them back to land. The successful splashdown marked the end of the return journey and initiated the next phase of medical evaluations and quarantine.

Upon returning to Earth, the astronauts underwent thorough medical assessments to evaluate their health and well-being. Quarantine measures were implemented as a precautionary measure due to the possibility of lunar pathogens that may have been brought back from the moon. These measures aimed to prevent any potential spread of unknown lunar microorganisms.

B. Final thoughts on the significance of this historic mission

The return journey from the moon was a remarkable achievement for humanity. It marked the triumph of science, technology, and human endeavor, as astronauts traveled to an extraterrestrial body and safely returned to Earth. The Apollo missions were a testament to the capabilities of human beings to conquer seemingly insurmountable challenges.

This historic mission had a profound impact on space exploration. Through the Apollo missions, significant milestones were achieved, including the first manned lunar landing and the successful return from the moon. The knowledge gained and the advancements made during these missions continue to shape our understanding of the universe and pave the way for future explorations.

As we reflect on the return journey from the moon, it is crucial to recognize the countless individuals who worked tirelessly to make this mission a reality. Their dedication, perseverance, and expertise enabled humanity to take one giant leap forward in our quest to unravel the mysteries of space.

Looking ahead, ongoing space exploration efforts are poised to continue pushing the boundaries of what is possible. Continuous advancements in space technology, coupled with plans for future lunar missions and beyond, demonstrate our unwavering commitment to exploring the far reaches of the cosmos.

In conclusion, the return journey from the moon stands as a testament to human ingenuity, courage, and a relentless thirst for knowledge. It serves as a milestone in our collective history and inspires generations to come to reach for the stars.

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