Monday, January 12, 2009

We Lost the Moon

Just after the eve of the biggest and brightest full Moon of 2009 seemed like a fitting place to post this topic, one of a series inspired by the book DO YOUR EARS POP IN SPACE? by astronaut R. Michael Mullane.

There was a prophetic line from Apollo 13 when Jim Lovell (Tom Hanks) realized the mission was in jeopardy and they wouldn’t be landing on the Moon. It hit the crew hard to know they'd never know the high of walking on the lunar surface. But that phrase later rang true for all of mankind. Why didn’t we go back to the Moon after the last Apollo landing? Seems like a simple question. We’ve put men there, repeatedly, and brought them safely back again. Why not go back?

The sad truth is, we lost the capability to reach the Moon. The powerful Titan rockets required to propel a manned vessel into an orbit that can reach the Moon went out of production. The space shuttle was designed to be an orbiting craft and can’t reach the Moon. We lost the Moon.

Does it mean we’ll never go back again? If we’re going to establish a colony, we’ll have to regain abilities we’ve lost. With the impending retirement of the space shuttle and as the International Space Station nears completion, NASA is building the next generation of vehicles to take us back to the Moon--and possibly even Mars—with a goal of staying on a longer term basis.

As a step in this process, the new Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO, has now begun testing. Once testing is complete, it is expected to be shipped to Kennedy Space Center for an April 24 launch aboard an Atlas V rocket. The plans are to have the LRO in sustained low polar orbit about 30 miles above the lunar surface to provide crucial data for future missions. But a manned mission is still many years, maybe even decades, in the future.

Interested in future plans? You can read more at NASA: Destination Moon.

My Muse’s Final Word – The last man walked on the Moon less than forty years ago. Few people could even tell you the name of that man now. As a species, once we’ve achieved something we’ve strived for, we lose interest. Maybe that’s what fuels the cycles of rise and decline of civilization in our history. I wonder where we stand right now in this peaks and valleys trend? Maybe the 1970s was our moment on the mountain top, and we’ve already begun our slow slide down the opposite face. Oh, to gain such a treasure as the Moon, only to lose it again. Or...could we be headed for the next pinnacle, a higher peak, on the road to the stars? Carl Sagan said, "All civilizations become either spacefaring or extinct." If we hang around on this beautiful blue planet long enough, we're bound to run into some kind of catastrophe that will end our species. Isn't it time to reach for the Moon, and for the stars beyond, once again?

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