One Small Step for a Man…

On this day in 1969, humans set foot on another world for the very first time. Six and a half hours after landing on the lunar surface, astronaut Neil Armstrong emerged from the Lunar Lander Eagle and climbed down the ladder to take his first steps on the surface of the Moon, with the immortal declaration “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind”. He was joined about twenty minutes later by co-pilot Buzz Aldrin.

I remember watching this on television as a young child of eight years of age. It was very early in the morning, (UK/Irish time), almost 3am, and my Dad had dragged me out of bed, bleary-eyed, to see the great event as it happened. I stood there, mouth wide open in amazement, watching the images on our old black and white television. Armstrong climbing down the steps, Aldrin joining him, the two astronauts, with their languid, almost slow-motion bouncing around on the lunar surface, planting the US flag, and collecting rock samples and other material to take back to Earth. Even at that early age, I was a hardcore space freak, and I fully understood that this was a most momentous, unforgettable event in human history. It is still one of the greatest memories from my childhood.

I know how memory can cheat, especially from so long ago, and at such an early age. It seems in my ancient memories as though they were out on the surface of the Moon for hours and hours, bouncing around and having fun, and that the Eagle was on the lunar surface for days. But they actually spent less than two and a half hours outside before climbing back aboard Eagle, and less than a day on the lunar surface before Eagle lifted off to rendezvous with the Command Module Columbia and Michael Collins, high above in lunar orbit.

The rest is history. The return to Earth, the splashdown, the triumphant celebrations. It seemed like the solar system was just waiting for us, and that we would be on the Moon, Mars and beyond before the end of the twentieth century. So what happened? Why did the Apollo programme peter out and manned space exploration beyond Low Earth Orbit end?

Yeah, yeah, I know, I know. Public apathy combined with corrupt, greedy, disinterested politicians who saw no more votes or money in funding manned spaceflight to the planets. But what a pathetic, lame excuse to bring such a premature end to mankind’s colonisation of space. We should be out there now, at least as far as the Asteroid Belt.

Hey, maybe in an alternate timeline we did it all. It’s nice to dream, isn’t it? 🙂

The Eagle Has Landed – 47 Years Ago Today

It’s been a busy week for space anniversaries. Yesterday was “Mars Day”, the 40th Anniversary of the landing of the Viking 1 lander on the surface of Mars, so I guess we could call today “Moon Day”, with the 47th Anniversary of the first manned landing on the Moon.

On the morning of 16th July, the Saturn V rocket carrying Apollo 11 and its crew lifted off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the first manned mission to take off with the mission of actually landing on the lunar surface, rather than just orbiting it. On the evening of 20th July, 1969, the climax of the Apollo 11 mission approached, as the Lunar Lander Eagle detached from the Command Module Columbia and descended down towards the lunar surface with astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on board (with Michael Collins remaining above in the Command Module).

Armstrong’s famous words “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” heralded the landing of the Eagle on the lunar surface. It would be another six hours, early on the morning of June 21st, before Neil Armstrong was to take his very first steps on the Moon, to be joined twenty minutes later by Buzz Aldrin.

The first landing by humans on another world. One of the greatest moments in human history, in my opinion. So when are we going back, again, for good this time?

The Apollo 11 Moon Landings and After – The Space Adventure That Should Have Been

Today marks the 40th Anniversary of Man’s first setting foot on another world, when Apollo 11 landed on the lunar surface, There’s the expected buzz on the internet, and a few television programs celebrating the event. At the moment, we’re watching Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 on UK television (ITV1).

I’ve always been a huge space exploration nut, so much so that my dad dragged me out of bed around 3.30am UK time on that long ago unforgettable day (I remember it vividly – I was only eight years old, and was a fan even then) to watch Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin take their first momentous steps onto the lunar surface. Even today I feel great excitement and elation whenever I read or watch anything to do with that golden age of space exploration. But I also feel a great sense of loss, of regret, and of anger.

Because the truth is that we had the stars in our hands and let them slip through our fingers.

To the current XBox playing, goldfish-attention-span generation, the moon landings mean absolutely nothing. They’re an irrelevancy, ancient history, something that happened way back when their parents were young. It shouldn’t be this way. Space travel, real space travel (not just space shuttle earth-to-low-orbit), should be a part of their everyday lives.

It’s a terrible shame that manned space exploration (outside of Earth’s orbit) died when the Apollo missions ended, scuppered by the nasty mix of public apathy and political connivance. Politicians won’t fund anything that doesn’t get them votes, and the public had lost interest, so the politicians therefore refused to continue funding the big bucks needed for this kind of space exploration.

So we lost it all, because of the dumb, apathetic general public and greedy, corrupt politicians. Wouldn’t ya know it. It makes me sick to even think about it. Ninety-nine percent of the general public can’t see past their daily fix of reality TV and sport, and politicians aren’t interested in anything that won’t get them votes, money or power.

We should’ve… would’ve… been “out there” now, with a lunar colony and a permanent base on Mars, just waiting to stretch our hands out and grasp the rest of the solar system. We should already be taking our earliest steps as a proper, space-faring species, out there, traveling regularly between Earth and the moon and even Mars, and looking with eager envious eyes at the asteroid belt and beyond, like Dan Dare and his Space Fleet.

For a dreamer and sci-fi/space exploration fan such as myself (and there are many, many others like me out there), it really, really sticks in my gut, every time one of these anniversaries of this glorious first lunar landing event comes around, and I look at the reality of what did happen, and think of what should’ve happened instead.

Think of it… we took our first steps on another world, and then just gave up and came home again, instead of keeping on going out there. So, so tragic, and absolutely pathetic.

There’s one vital thing those selfish, greedy, narrow-minded politicians and the ignorant, self-serving bulk of the population don’t seem to understand or care about. Space travel and exploration is not irrelevant or a waste of money. Our species simply has to move out into space to ensure its long-term survival. If we keep all our eggs in one basket (here on Earth), someday we’ll live (or won’t live) to regret it. We’ll become extinct, either through natural catastrophe, or we’ll destroy the environment, this world, ourselves, and we will have nowhere else to go.

Or else another stonking great rock will come at us from the depths of space, with Target Earth and RIP the Human Race written all over it. And it’ll be all their fault if our species dies off totally, and I hope they (or their descendants) remember that when the big space rock comes at us with our number written on it. It has happened quite a few times before during Earth’s history, and it’ll inevitably happen again. Maybe in a thousand years time, or ten thousand. Or it could just as easily be next week, or tomorrow. We should always be prepared for that eventuality, just in case, and setting up colonies on the Moon or Mars would be first steps towards ensuring that our species would not be wiped out, should the unthinkable ever happen. As I’ve already said, the old proverb about keeping all of our eggs in one basket is very apt here, and continuing to do so would be a very, VERY bad idea for humanity.

However, if we’re thinking about starting all over again, getting back out into space, we’d better get a move on. Our civilization only has a relatively small window of opportunity left, before the oil and other industrial resources are gone, and we no longer have the capability of launching space missions. After that, we really will be stuck here, with nowhere to go.

As I said at the beginning of the post, I’m watching Moonshot, but with a lot of mixed feelings. A sense of excitement and nostalgia, but also of anger and regret. And in my alternate world of “What Should Have Been”, I’ll be dreaming of those brave colonists striding across the surface of the Moon and Mars and conquering new frontiers for the human race.

Cassini Finds Another Saturnian Moon

So the Cassini mission has found another moon orbiting Saturn? That brings the total of moons around the ringed planet up to a total of sixty. Sixty moons! Sounds mighty impressive, doesn’t it?

It’s a little ‘un, only a rock, really, at a mere 2km (1.2 miles) in diameter. That’s 4-5 times smaller than the mere “meteor” that supposedly wiped out the dinosaurs. If that’s the case, and this new “moon” is so small, how can they justify calling it a moon? And how many of the other Saturnian moons fall into the same category? Most of them, I reckon.

Yet the scientists seem to be falling over themselves to increase the number count, according the title to every tidgy little rock they find orbiting the planet. Ironic, isn’t it, considering the rush by most of them a while back to strip Pluto of its status as a planet? If Pluto isn’t a planet, then this menagerie of large boulders is no more a retinue of moons than I am.

You’d think they’d at least have the decency to be consistent, wouldn’t you?