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We Went To The Future Once But We Decided Not To Stay - Planet Jonny
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jonnynexus
We Went To The Future Once But We Decided Not To Stay
I just finished watching a documentary in which a group of men describe something great they once did on our behalf. The men were Apollo astronauts, and the great thing they did was to make nine voyages to the Moon between 1968 and 1972.

I think nothing symbolises the degree to which we, humanity, did something great and then, unbelievably, chose to not repeat it, than the fact that these men are now old. It was a long time ago that we went to the Moon, and I think it will be a long time before we return. I think that perhaps the reason why so many people now believe that we never went is because it hardly seems plausible that we would go, and then never return. What happened to the Space Age? What happened to our cities on the Moon? What happened to the future?

And being reminded of all that made me recall a family conversation we had a couple of weeks ago.

We were talking about our earliest memories, and my elder brother Jim told us that his earliest memory was of being led out into our garden by our mum, and having her point at the Moon and tell him that there were men up there. That was during the Apollo 11 mission, when he would have been just over three.

Upon hearing that, I did a quick mental calculation. When Apollo 17 made the final landing on the Moon, I would have been a few months over three myself (It was three years later, and I'm three years younger than my brother). Why had she not taken me out to see the men on the Moon, then? I asked, slightly upset.

When Apollo 11 landed, I knew it was Jim's first chance to see a Moon with men on it, she told me. But when Apollo 17 landed, I never dreamed for an instant that it might, perhaps, be your last.

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serpentstar From: serpentstar Date: December 21st, 2008 10:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
Aye. Apparently we pretty well can't go back with Apollo tech, because nobody even knows how to build it any more; all the engineers are dead or senile, the blueprints (hard copy only) long since disintegrated, the few remaining rockets long since rusted away outside visitor centres. So, not only did we stop going to the Moon; we forgot how, too.
From: (Anonymous) Date: December 22nd, 2008 01:49 am (UTC) (Link)
I don't think that much has been forgotten.

The original Saturn V engineers may not be working, but the knowledge behind them lives on in universities and academic journals.

No large Saturn V style rockets are in use these days, but plenty of smaller rockets launch regularly launch terrestrial satellites and unmanned exploration vehicles. And they have been get more efficient.

Plans are already in place for the next generation of large rockets "Ares".

Please don't judge solar exploration just on humans arriving in a tin can. Space exploration never stopped. I would rather have a hundred useful unmanned missions than a bunch of flag waving joy rides.

Think of the change in knowledge about Mars. In 1972 we only had fly bys and a couple of failed landers. We weren't sure about the presence of water, or even life. Now we know there is frozen water, there was once liquid water, and we are starting to build up a geological history of the place.

As to why this is important, I think that in order to understanding how planets work we need to look at a wide range of them, especially Mars and Venus, and how they evolved. You can't understand dogs by just looking at one dog.

ps. I am probably biased as I was involved in astrophysics at Uni.

- John
serpentstar From: serpentstar Date: December 22nd, 2008 11:54 am (UTC) (Link)
The info on our inability to get back to the Moon via Apollo-type tech is from _Mining The Sky_ by Prof. Lewis:

http://www.lpl.arizona.edu/faculty/lewis.html

It could partly be hype, I guess... but he went into a lot of detail, and it all read very plausibly.

I recognise that a lot of good science can be done with unmanned probes. Still, I'd sooner we were out there colonising & exploiting.
petemonster From: petemonster Date: December 22nd, 2008 09:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
OK, whilst it's somewhat unfair of me to make any presumptions regarding Prof. Lewis' work without reading it, I feel the need to point out that we are going back to the moon with Apollo tech.

Check out the NASA website. They are retiring the Space Shuttle in favour of Ares, a new multi-stage rocket system designed to combine the best parts of the Shuttle and Apollo. It's designed with the intention of launching missions to the moon and to Mars (hence Ares, who was named Mars by the Romans).

And to respond to Jonny's original post; I agree with your sentiment absolutely, but I'd also like to offer you the joyous knowledge that things are a-changin'. A new space race is gearing up as we speak:

In 2 years time Virgin will begin space tourism, launching their privately owned space ship, The Enterprise, with William Shatner aboard the first flight. India has begun launching satellites, and is offering space on their regular launches to other nations. The XSpace Project continues to produce promising results of it's own. And that's before we get to the big three:

China has launched their first successful space mission, and put a probe in orbit around the moon to map "every squeare inch". They intend to have a fully functional moon base and Helium-3 mining operation by 2010. This is probably an over-ambitious estimate, but pad by around 5 years and you'd be betting on good odds. Better yet, their announcement on this subject can essentially be paraphrased as "The moon is full of money, and we're taking it." which is sure to get the Americans geared up for a new space race.

Indeed, the US has declared plans to have a functional moon base of their own by 2025. Russia is also back in the game, gearing up their space projects once more, as part of their "grand return to power" that Putin has been orchestrating. They have their own plans for a moonbase, with a time frame that roughly matches that of China and the US.
foxfour From: foxfour Date: December 21st, 2008 11:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
i have to admit, i am a bit puzzled as to why we even went that many times; yay scientific inquiry and all that, but it seems a huge cost v. gain.

then, on the other hand, it would be awesome, but would require people in the US to think that funding NASA was a good use of their tax money (for us to do it, anyway), which seems to not be the case anymore. i blame the end of the cold war, or something.
(Deleted comment)
foxfour From: foxfour Date: December 22nd, 2008 08:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
(i am one of those people who is waaaay pro undersea exploration, but then again, i am a massive ocean-fan.)
darransims From: darransims Date: December 22nd, 2008 12:25 am (UTC) (Link)
"When Apollo 11 landed, I knew it was Jim's first chance to see a Moon with men on it, she told me. But when Apollo 17 landed, I never dreamed for an instant that it might, perhaps, be your last."

Profound.
muskrat_john From: muskrat_john Date: December 22nd, 2008 05:03 am (UTC) (Link)
"Profound. "

Absolutely. I was just going to post the same response.

I remember, at age seven, keeping a scrapbook with news clippings on the progress of Apollo 11. And watching the landings live...that tiny, triangular (if I remember correctly) view from the window of the lunar lander as it coasted across the moon's landscape...
jonnynexus From: jonnynexus Date: December 22nd, 2008 11:31 am (UTC) (Link)
I envy you.

It sometimes seems like I was born long enough ago to now be old, but not long enough ago to remember any of the cool stuff. My first memories start around 1973.

Power cuts. Flared trousers. The three-day week. Stagflation. Excessive facial hair unbound to any accompanying (and perhaps justifying) lifestyle or philosophy.

It wasn't good.

(As an aside, I remember when the shuttle launched, I found the whole concept of Americans in space absolutely bizarre. I was really into space then, but all I'd known for what seemed like years and years and years was tales of Russians in their Salyuts making longer and longer voyages.)
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