Walking on the Moon

Edgar Mitchell passed away on February 4th at the age of 85.

Edgar Mitchell Quote

Here is another quote from a moon walker about what it was like:

“But sometimes people just want a description of what it was like,” he continued, “The black sky, the brilliantly illuminated slopes of the mountains, the bright sun, and then our Earth as a big blue marble hanging over one of the mountains. The physical feeling of walking on the moon is like walking on a giant trampoline, to some degree.”

— Harrison Schmitt

Only 24 humans ever left earth orbit and flew to the moon and back. Of those 24, three flew to the moon twice, and 12 landed and walked on the moon. So there were only ever, in the history of the world, 24 people who saw the earth as a brilliant blue marble floating in the black sky with their own eyes – and their own emotions.

Of those 24, only 16 are now still alive, the and the youngest is 79.

Apollo Astronauts Orbit and Landing

So there are only 16 humans left alive that ever saw the earth as a blue marble. The last time anyone saw that was in 1972.

The 50th anniversary of the first moon landing will be in 2019. I remember watching it on TV. I was twelve years old. I was sure when “I grew up” I would be traveling to the moon. Little did I realize that not only was I watching the first moon landing in my lifetime. I was likely also watching the last one.

I doubt that we’ll land on the moon within the next ten years. That spirit of “before the decade is out” (Kennedy) is no longer with us. Rather, our scientific and exploratory spirit is much dampened by our lack of enthusiasm for science and progress. Just listen to Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, two of our “leaders” of the 21st century. They want to turn the United States into a theocracy. Why don’t they look at Afghanistan and Iran, and see how that worked out for those countries.

Meanwhile, I choose to remain inspired by the look of the blue marble.

U.S. Space Travel in 2012

I still remember clearly when I was 12 years old in July 20, 1969, watching the first moon landing on TV. I was in Germany then, so it was around 2:00am. I had special permission by my parents to stay up. Even as a 12-year-old I was aware that I was witnessing history, the first steps of man on another world. Over the next few years there were several more landings, and the photographs taken are now etched into our thinking of the 1960s. When Apollo 17 left the moon on December 14, 1972, I was not aware, and neither was anyone in the world at the time, that we had seen not just the first people on the moon, but the last ones, for a very, very long time. I am now 55, and I speculate that I may not see another human on another world in my lifetime.

In the 1940s science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke forecast that man would reach the moon by 2000. He was 30 years off on the pessimistic side, but he too didn’t think that would be the end of it.

Neither did I expect that in 2012 the U.S. would be without the capability to launch humans into space and bring them back safely. Only the venerable Soyuz capsule, which first flew in 1966, is still available to carry U.S. and other nations’ astronauts to space and to the International Space Station. It is, after all, a Russian – Soviet era – space craft that is the most cost-effective and safest space vehicle ever designed. Today, the U.S. is paying Russia $450 million a year for the service of the Soyuz.

There is a push in the current administration to privatize space transportation. SpaceX is poised to make the first fully commercial flight to the International Space Station later this year. A lot hinges on its success. Of course, NASA never actually built spacecraft itself. Those were built by companies like Boeing and Lockheed Martin under “cost-plus” contracts. But NASA controlled all major aspects of the program. This is shifting. When SpaceX successfully reaches the International Space Station, it will be the first time an organization that is not a nation-state is making such a flight.

We expect now that it won’t be until 2020 that the U.S. will have capability to launch humans into orbit again.

I consider this situation a failure of vision by the last several U.S. administrations, including the current one. We have lost a critical edge of technology that we had held onto for a long time. We don’t show the will to succeed anymore, the will to win, and the will to excel as a nation, other than slapping around third-world countries in the middle east.

We seem to be fine focusing on controlling our deficits – and we’re terrible at producing results with even such prosaic visions and goals.

Go, SpaceX, go!