Monday, July 21, 2008

39 years ago today...

Buzz Aldrin poses during Apollo 11
Image Credit: NASA

39 years ago, humankind took its first tentative steps into the cosmos when astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin walked on the surface of the Moon as part of the Apollo 11 mission. (Their moonwalk, while only 2.5 hours long, started about 11pm EDT on July 20 and finished in the early morning of July 21, so there is some ambiguity in the "date" of the moonwalk. But why not celebrate this amazing accomplishment over two days, instead of just one?)

At the end of the Apollo Moon program in December, 1972 (a full year before I was born), few people suspected that it would be nearly 50 years before we returned to the moon (and it could be longer than that, if the Orion project is significantly delayed). To some people, this is a travesty. Other people wonder why we are even considering going back.

I think it is in our nature to explore. From our early Homo sapien ancestors leaving the African continent to colonize new lands, to seafaring peoples of many nations and races that sailed the vast and unfriendly seas, to the astronauts/cosmonauts/taikonauts who risk their lives to sail the vacuum of space, the unknown seems to draw us onward. So, I suspect that it is just a matter of time before we humans are crawling across the face of Mars, and perhaps even considering one-way flights to explore new worlds around other stars. But this "time" may be hundreds or thousands of years from now, and there are many other challenges facing us right here on our home planet. So I think we can afford to be patient, as long as we don't take our eyes off the ultimate goal.

Sp, if you look out late this evening to see a big yellow moon rising, remember that we were there just 39 short years ago.

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