Tuesday, April 6, 2010

I'm still on the Moon

Still thinking about the Apollo program.

I'm reminded of a class that Karen and I taught. A grade 6, 7 and 8 girl's self defense class. Chaos in action.

Given that we were the teachers there's always the students who really think you're cool and want to hang out in the breaks and so there is one of the girls telling me about this truly cool movie she and her best friends have seen over the weekend. Not current run, a couple of years old. She's telling me about it and I realize she's talking about Tom Hanks and the movie is Apollo Thirteen.

I'm nodding and taking it in and as she pauses I, figuring I'm going to insert some interest in the conversation say, "Yeah. That is a good movie. When it happened though, we didn't have video feeds or any kind of TV contact, all we had was radio and we could hear them. I had the radio on the whole time. We really were afraid they'd miss the earth coming back." Her eyes are getting more and more round at this point and I continue. "It was one heck of a tense time."

She gulps and whispers "You mean it really happened?"

"Yes, it happened." Karen throws in her two cents... "It was big news, even if people didn't approve of that part of the space program."

"The Apollo Moon program. They never landed on the moon and almost didn't make it home. We were afraid we'd lost them..." I'm now talking to her back as she runs over to her friends.

Wildly gesturing arms, girls getting that same wide eye'd look, peeking out of the crowd as if I'd suddenly sprouted antenna. The whole rest of the class... the story spread... a wave of change. This cool movie had suddenly become history. Reality.

And I'm standing there, flat-foot. People have forgotten this? Already? This is MY memory. I saw this. I heard this. I'm still alive and people have forgotten? Something so important? The first time we truly went to another planet, our co-planet. Duct-tape and illness and sweat and deaths, though no one died on this launch. New computing power and discovering a hundred new ways of looking at the world and the universe and it's forgotten? It's just this cool movie someone made; a fantasy like Star Trek or Star Wars?

We had to repeat the story a few more times as various girls came to ask for confirmation. But we didn't say anything else. I wonder sometimes if we should have, but we were only supposed to teach self defense. We taught a bit more that day.

I sometimes wonder if it had any effect.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Moon Shot Thoughts

I was just reading Robert Fulghum's "What On Earth Have I Done?" and stumbled across a line in his piece about the moon. He says not much has been accomplished by the moonshot.

I must disagree. All the stuff we have on the planet, including medical telemetry and a piss-load of stuff we wouldn't normally have if we'd never gone to the moon...

But it got me to thinking.

First of all it was worth it to go to the Moon because, in part, the itch to go past boundaries is part of what makes us human. Not always a good thing, but human. So here are two guys... two evolved primates who have pushed human boundaries all the way to the moon. And in the LM, while futzing around with their stuff in tight quarters, someone moves that wrong way and a little plastic switch gets snapped off.

I imagine they froze at the sound. Maybe watched it do a slow tumble and eventually hit something. Kind of loud when the nearest fix for something broken is a very, very long way away. It's even worse than watching a rope on a mainsail snap when you're a hundred days away from Portsmouth, or Lisbon. For one thing you can't go outside and find something to fix said rope with.

This little switch is what fires up the engines. In a sense, the ignition. It's a bit like snapping your car-key off in it. There is a divot too small for a human finger and a little toggle at the bottom.

So here we have an astronaut pulling apart his famously, ridiculously expensive space pen (Hi there Fisher!) so he has a perfect stick to jam into this tiny little hole, with as intense a concentration as a starving chimp trimming a termite stick. Simian all the way. Get the stick. Modify the stick. Poke the stick in the hole. Survive.

Very human. Very simian. Here on earth, or on the moon, we are the same only different. Armstrong and Aldrin doing what humans do best. When confronted with another boundary, that teeny hole, between them and getting home, they improvised.

And even if the story is funny, it was deadly serious at the time. Going to the moon changed us profoundly as a species, even if people want to dismiss it, forget it, play it down. Even as we used our most ancient skills on that most modern of flying machines, the Lunar Lander, we did it not only to beat the Russians. Not only to push our boundaries.

With what we brought back from the moon we've figured out a good, solid theory as to WHY we have a moon at all. Dug into the early life of our planet long before we evolved. Thought about how our home even got to a point where we could exist as a species.

And it is a partial answer to "Who are we?" "How did we get here?" and gives us an inkling, a faint shred of thought to "Where are we going?"

All very, very worthwile reasons for having gone to the moon. And just as good reasons for going back.

Don't ever run down an accomplishment just because you can't see the impact. You may not know the ripples that were flung out, Mr. Fulghum. To dismiss the moon shots as trivial, or unnecessary is to diminish our curiousity, our spirit, our big 'Why's'. Whether the moon is green cheese or Diana's smile or a place where a man proved he was still a monkey at heart, to get home, its still important. If I may quote you. "Oooohh, the Moon. The Moon."