Forty years ago, my dad embarrassed me by stopping on a winding highway in the Colorado Rockies and waving down other drivers asking if they wanted to watch the moon launch. I was six years old. We were on the annual summer camping trip. Dad had had the foresight to load up our black-and-white portable tv with a powercord to the cigarette lighter, and he had kept an eye on the time. Not too many cars passed by, and none took up his offer. My brother and I understood that he was excited, but the significance of watching that grainy image of a rocket launching into space was beyond us at the time. Ever since, I rarely remember the event without tears – my own bit of vicarious spaceflight, an historic event witnessed by one of the largest global television audiences at that time. I do not recall watching the moon landing (although we probably did), it must have been under more ordinary circumstances and thus did not imprint as deep.
The photos from The Big Picture’s Remembering Apollo 11 entry capture the glory as well as the sheer hard labor. One of the experiments (photo 29) has functioned ever since, demonstrating that the moon is moving away from the earth at a rate of 2.5 inches/year. (How does this influence, I wonder, the tidal flow of rock that the folks at CERN need to track?) A friend pays tribute to Neil Armstrong’s expression after the moonwalk (#24), a man who kept his cool “in situations that would have most of us soiling our pants — this incredibly brave, stoic man — is photographed by Buzz Aldrin with an incredulous, half-smile, his eyes brimming with tears after having just friggin walked on the surface of the friggin Moon.”
Stephen Hawking writes,
“Sending humans to the moon…changed the future of the human race in ways that we don’t yet understand and may have determined whether we have any future at all.”
I’m partial to the views of Earth. If only they were enough to keep us mindful of the very narrow conditions that sustain our atmosphere. Humanity is like the population of a spacecraft, only not everything is mechanized according to our abilities for control. In #35, Michael Collins describes the three billion human inhabitants of earth, two explorers in the Eagle, and one moon captured by chance. Now, we have still one moon, and there are plenty of explorers – but adventures of this type seem more rare. Meanwhile the population on earth has more than doubled. We have food and fuel issues that require massive infrastructural adjustments. Unlike a NASA spaceship, there’s no dedicated team working collaboratively to secure the future of our hardy planet. Tough as she is, there are vulnerabilities that need to be addressed in order to continue supporting a viable human population. Hawking argues that we need a more aggressive space exploration program to inspire more young people to enter the sciences, and that we need to be thinking in terms of centuries: 200-500 years to find Goldilocks Zones in star systems only thirty light years away.
The Goldilocks Zone refers to the conditions necessary for a planet to have surface water. Gilese 581c was discovered just two years ago, only 20.5 light years away. The thing is, while technology probably can get us there eventually, we’ve somehow got to keep this planet going at least as long as that takes! We now have the group communication tools to make incredible collaborations possible. Watch this ten minute video from Clay Shirky, an expert on internet communication technologies: UsNow: Part 2 of 7.
To the moon: historic TV coverage, global audienceNewsday.com
Science Tourism: CERN, Reflexivity
World Population Clock, U.S. Census Bureau
Again, to the moon – and beyond, Stephen Hawking and Lucy Hawking
Are we not the only Earth out there? howstuffworks