Neil Armstrong on the moon next to the Lunar Module Eagle
Credit: Reuters/Edwin Aldrin-NASA/Handout
Friday July 20th was the anniversary of the first moon-landing (43rd). A month later, last Saturday August 25th 2012, the first Moonwalker Neil Armstrong died. So many pictures. So many memories left behind, to all of us wondering where the promised future has gone. The future where walking on Luna did not end in December 1972, but rather continued, and was succeeded by visiting other planets and moons. A wonderful post about that at John Scalzi’s “Whatever” blog. See also this post on Time’s Life, the magazine that followed his entire career.
When I was 9 years old the teacher told the class to write a journal, and in it to specify what we want to be when we grow up. At the time, an entire generation, Generation X, was inspired by the accomplishments of the astronauts, NASA’s space program, and the continued space-shuttle missions. That inspiration was delivered and fueled by TV and radio programs, books, magazines. They all led us to believe that the promised future was possible. In my case the situation was worse: I opened a Bazooka Joe bubble-gum one day, which was always wrapped with a piece of paper containing a comic strip and a ‘fortune’ section. My ‘fortune’ said that before my 21stbirthday I will get to go to the moon!
Looking back, what a cruel lie to tell a kid… In any case, I believed it. I truly believed for several years, that traveling to the moon will become trivial like traveling over the ocean, and you won’t have to be a trained astronaut to get there. But to be on the safe side, I was willing to accept that I’d have a better chance of this happening if I was an astronaut. So. I wrote that I want to be a pilot or an astronaut.
There were quite a few other kids that wrote the same. I have no idea how many of us became pilots (a few of us did, which isn’t a trivial matter either). I’m certain though, that no one realized the dream to become an astronaut, and none of us got to go to the moon, not before the age of 21, and not since. If they asked us why we’d want to go to the moon, we’d probably give the same answer that the first Everest climber gave, when asked why he wants to climb Mount Everest: “Because it’s there”. But we never got a chance to do it and we didn’t know how to create it. We were disillusioned. We became sleepwalkers. We grew up.
I’ve been reading reactions to Neil Armstrong’s death, which include heated debates about space exploration in general. I’ve seen some ugly objections for religious reasons – as if the writers know first hand that god would view visiting the moon as a sin. Other objections could be summarized as: “Why spend vast resources on exploring the Moon and Mars, when we have so many unsolved problems here on Earth?” A minority of believers kept on answering these objections with conviction. It seems now, however, that there is an incredible wave of renewed interest in human exploration of the solar system. Here’s an answer put together not too long ago, at ‘Riding with Robots‘. The sleepers are awaking. And they are saying: we are grateful for what NASA’s robotic missions have done for us, and now we want to go, in person.
The fictional Dr. Ellie Arroway in the movie Contact (based on the real Jill Tarter, ‘Queen of SETI’, mentioned in this older post) is asked: “They still want an American to go, Dr. Wanna take a ride?” When the time comes, her only answer is the repeated “I’m OK to go!”
We should now be all saying: ‘I’m OK to go’.
Above: scenes from the movie ‘Contact’.