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."

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