John F. Kennedy asked for the Moon. America delivered, yawned, and changed the channel.
See the photo above? I ran across it a few days ago on Facebook (click on the photo to see the full, uncropped image — it’s really quite impressive). Once I’d seen it I had to track down the original — this is of the International Space Station, as taken from the Space Shuttle Atlantis on July 19, 2011.
See that little dot in the ebon sky to the right of the station?
It’s the Moon.
43 years ago this Friday, July 20, Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” E. Aldrin, Jr. set their spindly, spider-like Lunar Module Eagle down in an all-too dicey landing amidst the boulders and dust of the Sea of Tranquility; and only a few hours later planted a specially-rigged American flag on its desolate surface.
How many people you know actually give a damn?
After the initial triumph, the business of going to the Moon became, for the American public … boring.
Other than the drama of the catastrophic spacecraft failure and skin-of-the-teeth return to Earth of Apollo 13, the country clearly had its mind on other things.
(Yes, I know what Vietnam was. We shouldn’t have been there, and if we hadn’t been, we wouldn’t have mowed those students down at Kent State because they wouldn’t have been protesting anything in the first place.)
On December 13, 1972, Apollo 17 astronaut Eugene A. Cernan, the last man to walk on the Moon to date, delivered a solemn observance as he was about to reenter his Lunar Module Challenger for the last time prior to lift-off:
I’m on the surface; and, as I take man’s last step from the surface, back home for some time to come — but we believe not too long into the future — I’d like to just [say] what I believe history will record. That America’s challenge of today has forged man’s destiny of tomorrow. And, as we leave the Moon at Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return: with peace and hope for all mankind. Godspeed, the crew of Apollo 17.
This was, of course, greeted at home with a chorus of snores.
Yeah, we brought back the Moon. But there were no leaders around to tell us what to do when we finally had it in our hands.
It was as if we dropped the Moon in Kennedy’s casket on the pillow next to his head, slammed the lid down, nailed it shut, and buried it in the place where America’s dreams are left to rot.
If Elon Musk and Robert Bigelow — or people like them in the future — eventually have their way, we’ll go back. We’ll dig up the casket of American Dreams and steal the Moon out of it. We’ll set up hotels on it, strip mine it of Helium 3, and sell pizza to the settlers. Those radicals who manage to hack into state-suppressed raw uncensored newsfeeds in that not-too-distant future will watch in horror as astro-eco-activists are bulldozed over by the regolith-scraping Helium 3 collectors. We’ll helplessly witness the sweep of history as corporate octopi stretch their tentacles between the planets, and leverage the literally astronomical wealth of resources of the solar system against that quaint little thing that used to be known as representational government. And when they’re tired of playing with that, they’ll throw it into the casket where the Moon used to be, where every single one of them has made it clear they feel representational government belongs.
The madness of humankind will eventually move out to the stars, driven by the sheer power — no, make that the hyperdrive — of corporate greed, because our species doesn’t seem to have any ethics or values with more vitality.
(Yeah? Prove me wrong, sparky.)
With any luck on a cosmic scale, someone will come along, look at this infestation that has overgrown the Earth, and weed.
It’s better we leave the Moon to travel alone its solitary million and a half mile journey around the Earth every month, and spare it the indignity of being yet another thing desecrated, as is everything the human species touches.
To Moon, or Not to Moon?
Now I’m sure a few of you are wondering what I’m really saying here. Should we go back to the Moon, or not?
Yes, we should. It’s good that we went. It’s good that we learned so much about what our universe is like. Even our incredibly wasteful, pulled-in-a-million-directions-so-it-can’t-do-anything-right American space program has taught us important things about how to live and work in space.
What I want? I want us to get our act together first, because we have no business moving our species off of this planet until we do.
Who knows? Maybe we’re only talking a couple of millennia here.
See? I can be optimistic.
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Copyright © 2012, by Daniel Brenton. All Rights Reserved.