Saturday, May 15, 2010

From the Earth to the Moon--Again?

The HBO series 1998 miniseries From the Earth to the Moon tells the story of the Apollo program, the program that landed six spacecraft on the moon. The series does not fail to point out the sacrifices—human lives, marriages, careers—that contributed to that success.

As a result of the Apollo mission, twelve men walked on the surface of the moon, returning valuable knowledge about its structure and possible origins. At the same time, these astronauts only touched a small part of a globe with the land mass of Africa. Only toward the end was a geologist included on a crew. What if more scientists could spend time there? What about artists and other creative people?

The series is particularly poignant since 12 years after this series was produced and 38 years after the last human walked on the moon, our President indicates that the moon is “old hat” and it is time to move on to new challenges. We still know very little about our nearest planetary neighbor. When the United States was a young nation, there were many theories and myths about what lay west of the Mississippi River, but Thomas Jefferson sought clarity by sending Lewis and Clark to separate fact from fiction by an extended expedition. They opened the door to a new understanding of our North American continent. If we really wan to know the Moon, we need to place people there for extended periods of time.

The American space program accomplished near miraculous feats between 1968 and 1972 with technology that we smile at today. There were no cell phones, no personal computers, or many of the synthetic materials we now possess. We have made massive steps forward in technology. What could we do with what we have today? As other nations move into space, perhaps we will find willing partners for the task of returning to the Moon.

In his speech presenting the challenge fulfilled by the Apollo program, John F. Kennedy said, “We chose to do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” We need such projects to stretch ourselves, expand our minds, and provide new patterns of cooperation. Would it be easy? No, but anyone can do the easy things.

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