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Footprints and Space Junk…

July 20th, 2009 · 4 Comments

Aside from the obvious continuation of the species and the pride a new mother and father feel for their newborn spawn, does the infant contribute anything to humanity? Of course not. At first, the neonate is simply a screaming, wiggling, out-of-control mess all covered in goo. Only after many, many years of nurturing (read: spent money) is the human being, now all-grown-up, able to contribute anything worth-while to society. And even then, only a small percentage contribute in spectacular, civilization-changing ways. A group of human beings who were capable of changing civilization gave birth to a newborn back in 1969. The newborn’s name was Luna, and they nicknamed it “The Moon.” They fed this newborn six times, and then they left it. Since then, that orbiting newborn’s limitless potential to change civilization has lain dormant.

Today is the fortieth anniversary of man’s first steps on an extra-terrestrial world. On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Alrdin set foot on Luna. They came in peace for all mankind.

And exactly what was it they and the rest of the Project Apollo team at NASA ultimately accomplished?

Footprints and space junk.

Of course, the six missions of the Apollo Program that landed on the moon were fantastic successes for their time. They brought back a wealth of scientific data and rock samples. The scientific advances of the Apollo program that led up to the moon landings created numerous spin-off technologies that have done nothing but benefit humanity. The program brought a wave of national pride, the citizens of the United States knowing that their country had beaten the Soviets to the punch, for once. I wasn’t even alive when the last Apollo mission lifted off from the surface of the moon, but watching what those astronauts did for the world brings tears of pride to my eyes.

But in the end, the only tangible legacy of the Apollo program remaining are the half-dozen lunar landing sites and museum-housed exhibits.  Since the Apollo missions, humans haven’t strayed out of Earth’s orbit.

I know why we did it, landing on the moon. But looking back at it, I don’t really know why we aren’t still doing it.

The primary reason, of course, is because society is fascinated by the new and the now. And when such monumentally important things such as lunar (and further) exploration are seen by mainstream society as uninteresting or unimportant, funding will naturally wane. And without funding, there is nothing when you’re speaking of space programs. “Why do we really need to go to the moon again, anyway?” That is the typical question many skeptics ask. “Funding a serious space program is wasteful when the money could be spent to fix so many problems here on Earth.” There are several simple ways to answer that question.

First, space exploration requires research and development that reaches into nearly every aspect of science and industry. And during the development of new and bigger space projects, there will undoubtedly be unexpected and spectacular advances. Space research will absolutely lead to an immeasurably positive impact on the world’s economy through the introduction of spin-off products and technologies to the general society.

Second, Luna is a completely untapped source of natural resources. No, we do not have a full understanding of exactly what natural resources exist on the moon. But will that change if we don’t return to it? What we do know is that there are abundant sources of copper, nickel, and iron (among many other things) on Luna. There also may be other resources such as sub-surface ice and hydrogen that could support increased lunar activity as well as manned missions to Mars and beyond. As the population of the Earth increases, the availability of natural resources decreases. Being that societies tend to get a little uneasy when things they need get scarce, and given the tendency towards violence that we homo-sapiens have showed in the past when subjected to such shortages, large losses of human life from war over scarce resources might possibly be averted were we to use the Moon to its full potential.

The real answer to that question of “Why?” can be answered by looking into the eyes of your seven billion neighbors. Robert A. Heinlein said it very well in a short passage from his book: I Will Fear No Evil:

It isn’t the threat of war, or crime in the streets, or corruption in high places, or pesticides, or smog, or ‘education’ that doesn’t teach; those things are just symptoms of the underlying cancer. It’s too many people. Too many. Seven billion people, sitting in each other’s laps, trying to take in each other’s washing, pick each other’s pockets. Too many. [There's] nothing wrong with the individual in most cases – but collectively we’re…unable to do anything but starve and fight and eat each other.

Aside from eating each other’s lunches in the not too distant future, there is also the possibility of extinction due to events beyond our control.  The dinosaurs were wiped off the planet by the impact of a meteorite that was so tremendous that the dust it threw into the atmosphere blocked out the sun for thousands of years. So aside from the Velcro and Astronaut Ice Cream, the space program must continue to exist for one reason and one reason only: survival. The moon is a ready-made life raft for humanity. We just need to inflate it and climb aboard.

But there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch, folks. It will take money and brains and brawn.

Throughout history, Government has funded and provided the infrastructure for  exploration of and expansion into unknown territory. Did King Ferdinand shrug his shoulders over the New World after Columbus’ first trip? Did Thomas Jefferson merely say, “Thanks for finding the Great Falls of the Missouri. No need to go any further. Come on back to St. Louis, now.” to Lewis and Clark? Absolutely not! These men (and others like them throughout history) knew the importance of the development of new and promising frontiers. They understood that society as a whole would nothing but benefit from newly found resources, increased square footage, and increased freedom. That is why these key individuals set aside the money for exploratory programs. Money attracts the brains which employ the brawn, and the three combine to do great things.

Because of the enormous potential for societal benefit that space exploration has, it should be the last program people fritter about the government spending their tax dollars on.

We, as human beings, must return to the child Luna so that we may raise her and make her into the productive, spectacular, civilization-changing place she can be. It can only be done properly by human hands. I hope the footprints the Apollo astronauts left won’t be the last.

Tags: Aviation · Space

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Footprints and Space Junk... (Apollo 11 40th Anniversary) - Los Angeles Kings Hockey Fan Forum // Jul 20, 2009 at 5:52 am

    [...] Since then, that orbiting newborn?s limitless potential to change civilization has lain dormant. LINK!!! __________________ Sign the Luc Robitaille Statue [...]

  • 2 SL // Jul 21, 2009 at 4:02 pm

    Seems like budget problems are holding up the space program. Check this out:

  • 3 gcalvin // Jul 21, 2009 at 4:27 pm

    Undoubtedly. But what is causing the budget issues?

    NASA is in dire need of an overhaul…even a bloodletting. It needs to be less bureaucracy and more science. After leaning it out a bit, it needs FUNDING. Properly funding the space program will alone create more jobs than any economic stimulus package that Congress (especially the current Congress) can come up with. When politicians understand that the Space Program is the absolute BEST social program into which they can shovel taxpayer dollars, this country can get back to being at the forefront of the world economy.

  • 4 Jim Mantle // Aug 11, 2009 at 12:27 pm

    Flags & Footprints

    I watched the moon excusrions – all 6 of them. As a young child of the sixties I had pictures of rockets on the wall of my bedroom.

    sci.space.shuttle is a great place for the debates of the benefits of the moon race. Easily the smallest incremental benefit of sending (and returning) men to the moon was the return of the rocks – machines could have done that. Sending men allowed them to roam around a little more, and to select *that* rock over *this* rock, but the overwhelming benefit was the return of the rocks not the selection from the buffet.

    The spending stimulus was huge (and better that it be spent on science and techniques, rather on more efficient ways to kill the other guy), the technology developed and spin-off benefits were huge. And, of course, there was the chest-thumping aspect, which is very temporal and quite difficult to explain to anyone not raised through the 50′s and the 60′s (the Olympic games were an exercise in good vs. evil, not sport competition).

    As for going back to the moon, or over-crowding her on Earth….. take a drive through west Texas, or the Canadian north….. we have lots of room on this planet, as well as more than sufficient resources. The problem with space is one of distribution, plus in many parts of the world it makes positive micro-economic sense to have another child (another source of free labour to feed the family). As for resources, I would propose that the issue is not the supply, but one of short-term outlook, a me-first attitude, and a demand from the first-world countries that they lead whatever lifestyle they want, and damn the consequences. There will always be energy, the only debate is whether it sill continue to be so ridicously cheap as to support our extravagances of lifestyle.

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