OT: 50th Anniversary of Landing on the Moon

NASA

No way! We landed on the moon!


50 years ago (July 21, 1969) was the first time man set foot on a celestial body outside our own. When they landed, they didn’t know if the lunar module would sink precariously into the dust, off axis or worse, and be unable to return the explorers that risked their lives to push the boundaries as we knew them. They didn’t know if pressure from the decent engine would build up and cause the engine itself to explode. There were many things they didn’t know, many more than we actually did. But one thing they did know was that this moment was as significant as any man had ever witnessed. From JFK: “But if I were to say, my fellow citizens, that we shall send to the moon, 240,000 miles away from the control station in Houston, a giant rocket more than 300 feet tall, the length of this football field, made of new metal alloys, some of which have not yet been invented, capable of standing heat and stresses several times more than have ever been experienced, fitted together with a precision better than the finest watch, carrying all the equipment needed for propulsion, guidance, control, communications, food and survival, on an untried mission, to an unknown celestial body, and then return it safely to earth, re-entering the atmosphere at speeds of over 25,000 miles per hour, causing heat about half that of the temperature of the sun--almost as hot as it is here today--and do all this, and do it right, and do it first before this decade is out--then we must be bold.” They did this all with about as much computing power as your cell phone. And they accomplished that feat. They harnessed and controlled an explosion that thrust us to where no one had gone before.

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The three astronauts were huddled in the CM as they first orbited the moon, gliding over a rocky surface that reflected the soft, grey glow of the stars. They rounded from the dark side back into the light to an empty sky and isolation along the far part of Luna. As they continued along their path, they saw - from small windows that gave them visual access to space - cresting over the horizon, our Earth come into view, itself shaded like a gibbous moon. This blue marble hovered in space, carrying with it all other life as we know it. This protective orb is where – regardless of religious belief – a miracle must have occurred to bring about the perfect conditions to produce something so beyond our comprehension.

NASA

We crawled to land, learned to walk and talk, to build fire. We learned to conceptualize and philosophize, to try to figure out what we are, who we are, why we are. We learned to love. We realized our mortality. And yet, in that world we waged wars. We harnessed science capable of destroying it. All that happened there.

There are 10 times more stars visible to us than there are grains of sands in all the world’s deserts and beaches. As far as we know, what we can see makes up only a sliver of the existing universe. And yet, this remains the only place we know to harbor life (there are lots of reasons whythat may be), the lives of all the generations that led to us and the lives of all our kids and their kids and beyond.

NASA - Hubble


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We spent billions of dollars and millions of hours collectively to leave that place (for every hour the astronauts of Apollo 11 were in space, Americans collectively worked a million hours). Why? Well, it’s in our nature to explore, to discover and learn and become better. That’s a valid explanation, even if it feels like a cop-out to many.

There are political explanations, and it’s true that toward almost every other benchmark, the USA was behind the USSR when it came to the Space Race. Congress, initially frustrated with regularly coming in second to the Russians, originally supported the drive to the moon with utmost gusto. However, over time, even that passion drained almost to reluctance, as concerns on Earth caused them to question the importance. Those political reasons exist today, as China ramps up their capabilities, recently putting rovers on the farside of the moon and planning manned missions in the coming years; and the US of course have the Artemis program with the long term goal of Mars and beyond. Not to mention the many other countries that have sent humans to space. But politics ebb and flow with each passing administration, with each new threat or passion project, and is hardly to be considered a lasting force driving us to the stars.


There are commercial explanations. The US currently has at least four companies that, before the end of the next decade, will likely be able to send humans beyond our thin atmosphere: Space X, Boeing, Blue Origin, and Sierra Nevada; not to mention companies working toward suborbital flights like The Spaceship Company.  Our launch capabilities are only getting stronger. We are developing space stations and crewed vehicles and proposing gateways and lunar habitats and finally doing all the things we were expected to do by now when hundreds of millions of people watched us take our first step on the moon.



But are any of those things justification enough? The reality is, in my eyes, that in order to honestly look inward, we need to go outward. To understand how fragile we are, to better understand our mortality and psychology, we need to step outside ourselves and look upon the miracle that has been born. At some point, we will likely have to become a celestial society, for better or worse.

We are, in many ways, destroying our world at an alarming rate. Climate change is real, and whether you attribute it to manmade actions (you should) or not, the reality is definite that our climate is changing with or without us. While we pump more and more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, we destroy more and more forests that could help mitigate some of those damaging effects as our most significant carbon sinks. We warm what was once tundra and release more greenhouse gases into the environment. We melt polar ice, what once reflected additional heat from the sun now absorbs into dark oceans.




While the degree to which it is happening is still a hot topic of study, there is evidence that the insect population is declining globally. Bees, the pollinators of life, are decreasing in drastic numbers. Meanwhile, Ocean habitats are being decimated, causing a ricochet effect up the food chain.
Plastics, which contain all our foods, package each thing we send to stores or through the mail, and make up most of our cheap toys and trinkets we readily toss away as soon as we get them, are polluting our watersand will continue to pollute our waters for centuries to come, and methods to alleviate it have mostly failed. Now we find significant amounts of plastics in most ocean fish, and it only moves up the food chain to us. The health hazards associated this are hardly well understood.
Water itself is being largely lost in many regions to feed our desires for certain crops, crops that require significantly more water use, and lead to significant more water pollution. Eventually this leads to desertification of once thriving environments, resulting in further tree and habitat loss, causing vast areas of land to become barren.

Our population continues to rise at exploding levels, and we are using Earth’s resources at an alarming rate. As we become smarter, in many ways we become more ignorant. We somehow have managed to focus closer on the short-term and rarely consider the lasting impacts of our science and humanity. We’ve forgotten the reason we chose to look inward in the first place. And we need to get back there.

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NASA

Everyone remembers when Kennedy said “We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”, but the speech is littered with truths of today, trusts that live beyond when the words were spoken. I implore you to read the whole thing.

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I’m a rocket scientist with a primary focus on human exploration. I take pride in the fact that I am one. In my view, it is something that is necessary to our humanity. I’m not trying to puff out my chest or exaggerate my importance; if it wasn’t me doing it, it would be someone else. And even if I view it as a necessary aspect for humanity, it is not necessarily the most necessary, it is only a piece of the puzzle (an important piece worthy of funding, but not alone a solution).

50 years ago we landed on the moon and the world was inspired. For a brief breath, we believed we could survive all that we had bestowed upon ourselves, we thought we could come together and be more than what we were. It was “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Today, those words are still true, and while we lapsed for too long, it is important that we continue to push for space exploration, human and non-human exploration, along with all the other sciences. And it’s important that we get outward, and when we do, look back inward. We face many, many problems as a society, as a human race, and as a world. If we wish to thrive and prosper, if we wish to be better, if we wish not to parish with no lasting impact other than the destruction of what was once the greatest miracle ever known to man, then we must be bold again.