I have been used to getting visits to my blog every day from searches about the Moon landings because of the short piece I wrote one year ago today. While everybody focuses on the the big round numbers when it comes to civic anniversaries, I have kept focus on the achievements of the Apollo program even through the leaner times. With everybody writing for the last week or more about the 40th anniversary of the first lunar landing, I doubt very many people will pass this way.
I have been caught up in the hype as well, taking advantage of the various Internet opportunities to remember Apollo 11. I have used We Choose the Moon from the JFK Presidential Library. I have read along with the transcripts of the mission tapes from NASA as I listened to the real-time (+40 years) streaming audio. The BBC News Channel covered the news briefing today in Washington DC attended by Walt Cunningham, Jim Lovell, Dave Scott, Buzz Aldrin, Charlie Duke, Tom Stafford, and Gene Cernan. Even as I am writing this, the Ron Howard documentary In the Shadow of the Moon is on Channel 4.
Neil and Buzz may have been the first to walk on the Moon, but the Apollo program was full of firsts. The entire program could have been completed (instead of cutting out the final three missions) and they would not have run out of firsts. Sadly, TV audiences get bored so Congress started thinking about how much more money it could appropriate to more worthy causes, like blowing up villages and rice paddies in Vietnam controlled by people with the wrong political ideas. Why continue to advance the edges of scientific understanding on a cosmic scale when you can buy more napalm?
Buzz Aldrin’s new memoir was timed to come out at the same time as the 40th anniversary. He has been making the rounds on a promotional tour, using the opportunity to push his view that we should leave the Moon behind and go straight to Mars. When I watched today’s briefing, I saw just how forcefully his pushes this idea. Most of the other living Apollo astronauts seem to favour returning to the Moon as a staging point for perfecting base-building on a non-terrestrial body before going on to the Red Planet.
As much as I want to see missions to Mars in my lifetime, and as smart as Buzz is, there is still so much to be learned from our only known natural satellite. We need to go own the Moon, so to speak. Not in the legal sense – I think the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 is a good thing (not to be confused with the unratified Moon Treaty of 1979 which is completely bonkers) – but use of the Moon needs to be fully established. It would be so much more useful than that floating white elephant known as the International Space Station. The Moon has resources to be tapped that could make a dramatic difference to life on Earth without there being any chance of damaging the Moon itself.
I was struck by once again by Jim Lovell’s revelation that from the Moon you can put the whole Earth behind your thumb. Other astronauts have talked about how tiny and fragile it looks from 240,000 miles away. Writing 3,000 years ago, the singer-songwriter David ben Jesse could not have imagined the how much more meaningful his words would become in December 1968 when Bill Anders took the famous Earth-rise photo from Apollo 8.
When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained,
What is man that You are mindful of him,
And the son of man that You visit him?
That God cares about a tiny blue planet suspended in space is amazing enough. That out of all the universe He came down and became man and shared in our suffering is mind boggling. That we have the technology to go beyond this planet to explore the wonder and value of His creation is a responsibility that should not be ignored.