Happy Moonday!

Today: July 20th, 2009. The 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. The very first time mankind walked on the Moon. From liftoff,

to walking down the lunar landing module for the first time,

to some of the most iconic images in all of human history:

It brings up a sense of wonder unlike any other before. This video by the onion is so funny to me because it really does capture that sense of awesomeness, and just how blown away those twelve men who got to walk on the Moon must have been:

And it’s 40 years later now. While, scientifically, we understand more about outer space, the solar system, and the entire Universe than ever before, space missions and space exploration haven’t captured the imagination of the public as it once did in 1969. Universe Today and the BBC have some interviews with Apollo astronauts that shed some insights on this, but I thought I’d chime in and share my thoughts with you, too.

Going to the Moon was risky. Six astronauts were killed — three in flight training and three in a launch pad fire — in NASA’s space program from 1964 to 1967. Disasters happened, and the great risks continued to be undertaken because the reward — the chance to push the frontiers of what we could do and walk on the Moon — was worth it.

And we did it. We walked on that Moon, and we did it six times. I even got to meet the next-to-last man (and the only civilian) who did it, Harrison Schmitt. But think about this. Think about the names of astronauts. Who comes to mind? John Glenn? Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin? Alan Shepard? Maybe even Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space? These are all names from the 1960s! Maybe you’ll remember Sally Ride as the first woman in space, or someone like Ronald McNair, who was a casualty of the Challenger disaster, but how many of you can name even one active astronaut today?

In making decisions about space exploration that focus solely on scientific merit, NASA has lost sight of this basic fact: we are human beings, with dreams of exploration, adventure, and of being the first to reach new frontiers. It’s 40 years later, and humans haven’t visited one single moon, asteroid, planet, or even comet in my lifetime. No wonder so many people think that NASA’s a waste; what has NASA done recently that inspires the average person?

What would I do? Forget about going back to the Moon; we’ve done that and it isn’t interesting anymore. Let’s set our sights on something larger: Mars is the obvious choice. While manned missions are risky and many proposals say they’re likely to be one-way, so what? We would never be celebrating our great achievement of landing on the Moon if we weren’t willing to continue stepping forward despite our hearts being in our throats. I’m willing to bet that there are even some of you who would volunteer to go to Mars, even if it meant that there was a one-in-three chance that you’d die before ever setting foot on it and a 100% chance that you’d never return to Earth. How much would it cost? $10 billion? $50 billion? In the context of current times, isn’t it worth that drop in the bucket to inspire the world about what humanity can accomplish again, just like we did 40 years ago?

There’s so much to say about our trip to the Moon and what might come next, that you owe it to yourself to check out this week’s Carnival of Space, which focuses on the Moon and thoughts, memories, and interesting facts about it from over 25 space writers from around the world. And if any of you have thoughts, memories, or just a story to share, that’s what comments are for! Happy Moonday!

Comments

  1. #1 Brando
    July 20, 2009

    Agreed…Mars is worth the risk.

  2. #2 Mozglubov
    July 20, 2009

    Even though it happened before I was born, the entire atmosphere of the early space pioneers is something I have been chasing after since my teenage years (and it is what eventually led me firmly to a career in science). I wrote my own Happy Mooniversary blog post today, too. Even though I study computational neuroscience, the moon landing and early NASA remain a powerful inspiration to me.

  3. #3 phreack
    July 20, 2009

    Sign me up! Who cares if you come back or not? You only live once, might as well do something.

  4. #4 photon
    July 20, 2009

    Maybe you’ll remember Sally Ride as the first woman in space

    Or maybe you’ll remember Valentina Tereshkova, who piloted Vostok 6, 20 years (and 2 days) earlier.

  5. #5 Ethan Siegel
    July 20, 2009

    Photon, you’re right! Sally Ride was only the first American woman in space. Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space, only 2 years after the first man (Yuri Gagarin) in space. It took the US 22 years after Alan Shepard to make the same thing happen.

  6. #6 Zeno
    July 20, 2009

    Forty years ago on this day I was beginning to think about the prospect of having my 50th birthday party at the Lunar Hilton. I mean, why not? It was more than 30 years in the future and by then we were sure to have regular tourist flights. So, so wrong!

    If you are old enough to have watched the moon landing back in 1969, what did you think would be going on 40 years later? Was your guess better than mine? (I know: a low bar.)

  7. #7 Sili
    July 20, 2009

    Photon beat me to it.

    I don’t think we’re going to Mars (or the Moon) anytime soon.

    The general public has become so risk averse egged on by the press (while blithely ignoring genuine dangers). Just look at how hard it is to send up shuttles now. Not because it’s inherently more dangerous, but because noöne wants to take the ‘blame’ when the inevitable happens.

    It doesn’t matter that scientists and adventurers are willing to risk their lives (under the assumption that the ground crew has indeed done everything within reason to ensure their safety). Politicians goaded by the 24-hour celebrity-disaster press will kill anything that might conceivably makes them risk reëlection.

    Noöne wants to pay. Noöne wants to take the responsobility.

  8. #8 Mike Licht
    July 20, 2009

    After 40 years, one thing is clear: the future is not what it used to be.

    See:

    http://notionscapital.wordpress.com/2009/07/20/the-future-is-not-what-it-used-to-be/

  9. #9 SLC
    July 20, 2009

    From the point of view of scientific achievement, manned space flight is a total waste of money. I agree with Bob Park and Steven Weinberg, the manned space program should be greatly scaled back in favor of robotic missions. Of course, I realize that, according to the Bad Astronomer, Phil Plait, Park and Weinberg don’t know what they’re talking about.

  10. #10 Matthaus
    July 20, 2009

    Didn’t Robert Zubrin place the cost of Mars Direct around 55 Billion dollars? AIG was bailed out at over three times that amount. A mission to Mars could have been in the stimulus package!

  11. #11 Peter Reyes
    July 21, 2009

    Hey, even if we don’t go to the Moon or Mars anytime soon, at least we have science-fiction movies and TV shows to keep our minds occupied, right?

    Or maybe not. I found this really funny article on some of the not-so-great sci-fi TV shows that have come post-Moon landing:

    http://www.tvtango.com/news/detail/id/54

  12. #12 rob
    July 21, 2009

    you have the picture with the caption:

    “to walking down the lunar landing module for the first time,”

    isn’t that the picture of the *second* time? who would have taken the picture of the first time?

  13. #13 Ethan Siegel
    July 21, 2009

    Rob,

    That is Buzz Aldrin’s first descent down the Lunar Module. In fact, nearly all of the photos of an astronaut on the Moon for the Apollo 11 mission are of Buzz. Why? Because Neil didn’t like to be photographed, and he fulfilled his obligation by agreeing to step down first.

    Buzz recently admitted in an interview that he was relieved to be the second man on the Moon, not the first.

  14. #14 rob
    July 21, 2009

    Ethan: yeah, that was what i was alluding to. that is Aldrin on the ladder on his first descent. Armstrong had already descended so he was the one that had the *first* descent.

    i read somewhere (Bad Astronomy?) that the pictures were mostly of Aldrin cause of Armstrong’s camera shyness. but, geez, who was going to recognize him in the suit? NASA sure didn’t pick the astronauts for their PR potential. they sure got the job done tho!

    i look forward to seeing you replace your american gladiator picture with one of you without all the hair. :)

  15. #15 Liudvikas
    July 21, 2009

    I’d definitely volunteer and I could bet that most of current NASA astronauts would do the same with a one-way trip.
    It is true that the trip would almost certainly fatal to the astronauts.
    It is true that it would cost immense amounts of resources.
    But it is also true that to catch the imagination of the people we have to achieve impossible.
    I like Zubrins plan and those 55 bills are not that much compared to what this achievement could offer.

  16. #16 Derek
    July 22, 2009

    I love space exploration and I think NASA should be much better funded, but human space flight is a collosal waste of money. Mars rovers, crashing probes into the moon, and landing on comets can capture the imagination 70% as well at 1% of the cost. That means that $50B or more that it would cost to send a person to Mars could be used to do a lot more science and learn a lot more about the universe. It’s also naive to think that landing on Mars will recapture the wonder we felt in the 60’s. We live in a post-Star Wars world where people have seen just about everything they can imagine. A manned mission to Mars would not have the same mind-blowing effect today as the moon landing, which makes it that much dumber to sacrifice so much valuable science to give one or two people the vacation of a lifetime. I eagerly await your flames.

  17. #17 Fly Defenestrated
    July 22, 2009

    Hey Derek,

    If I remember Mission to Mars correctly, Zubrin’s justification for the trip wasn’t only for inspiration. It was to begin a new colony and to take advantage of some of the natural resources (e.g. Deuterium) that are abundant on Mars. He compared our lack of colonizing Mars to that of Australia, which was discovered in the early 17th Century but not colonized until the late 18th Century.

    Zubrin argued that it was the colonizing and development of the Americas that helped revitalize a stagnate Europe and jump start the Industrial Revolution. The idea is that a parallel effort to colonize Mars will drive innovation out of necessity and bring similar benefits to earth.

  18. #18 Derek
    July 24, 2009

    Before I can take resource arguments for going to Mars seriously it would have to be shown that mining anything on Mars and brining it back would make economic sense within the next thousand years. (Deuterium, for example, is abundant in our own oceans.)

    The fundamental question is whether any benefits that arise from a Mars program justify the cost. One mission will run tens of billions of dollars, and it would be stupid to go just once if our goal is to mine resources or establish a long-term presence. So we are talking about trillions of dollars over the life of a Mars exploration/exploitation program. Can you imaging how much innovation could be fostered by spending trillions of dollars on immediate, relevant science and research?

    Spending money on a foolish project in the hope of reaping indirect benefits is just irresponsible.

  19. #19 Shelby
    July 28, 2009

    Your Aldrin descent image is seriously doctored. You should visit some legitimate websites before lifting images for your blog. There was no Earthrise during Aldrin’s climb down the ladder in image AS11-40-5868.

    http://www.lpi.usra.edu/resources/apollo/frame/?AS11-40-5868

  20. #20 ramaa raman
    July 18, 2010

    dear sir/madam,
    Happy Happy Moonday!!!
    I’m educating school children upto Higher secondary level(Government schools) about Texas, Houston’s “Lyndon B Johnson Space Center and NASA’s activities like
    Lunar landing – Apollo-11′
    Mar’s landing – Discovery’
    Space Shuttle – Atlantis etc.,of US, through NGO-“Minchu IDEAS”,Bengaluru,Karnataka,INDIA.
    I wish to dedicate this small work to “40th ANNIVERSARY OF APOLLO-11’s HAPPY HAPPY MOONDAY!!!

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