- Education and Science
By the Light of the Silvery Moon
I recently read two articles which I found fascinating: in the first, I discovered that the earth once had two moons. The smaller one crashed into the larger one, about 4 million years ago (long before the rise of human beings on the planet), giving us just one silvery moon to spoon by.
The splat happened in slow motion--the smaller, sister moon took about 10 minutes to completely crash into the larger moon that we see in the sky above us, today. The small sister moon was travelling at about 5000 miles per hour (about 8047 kilometers per hour); still, with a massive 600-mile-wide (about 965 -kilometer-wide) sphere to absorb, our big moon took some time to digest it!
What we ended up with is a single, lopsided moon in the sky; the moon got hit with a pie about 4 million years ago, and that accounts for the man in the moon's silly grin.
The back half of the moon took the splatter; our moon got hit with the pie in the back of the head!
The earth is unique in our solar system for having only one moon. Venus and Mercury have none; Mars, two--even little old Pluto, who is now a "dwarf planet", has four; Jupiter and Saturn have more than sixty moons each.
The other article that struck me stated that Neil Armstrong, who was born on August 5, 1930, is 81 years old.
Imagine that! The first man to set foot on the moon is now in the 8th decade of his life! And I remember when this man was young, and a hero to millions upon millions of people; he stepped onto the moon, saying "One small step for man, one great step for mankind." We loved him for that sentiment. In those days, it seemed like just the beginning of a new era--the space age. We seemed to be on the cusp of untold discoveries of our universe. It opened up worlds upon worlds to us; that a man could travel beyond the boundaries of our world, and come home safe and sound.
We looked diligently for other intelligent life out there; we didn't feel we were alone. The SETA program took off--and many conscientious scientists spent their lives, out in the desert, sending a powerful radio signal into space, and listening for an answer.
We built rocket ships that went to Mars. We set up a space station; we built a space shuttle. We sent the Hubble telescope out into deep space, to explore the universe.
There was hope of undreamed of things; untold things in a universe of marvels, that we could begin to open. What we found was not immediately profitable, and the cost of space exploration was prohibitive.
We've had to practically abandon our quest into outer space and our exploration of the space frontier, for now at least. It costs too much, and there isn't enough of a return on the investment. We've found nothing exploitable; however, some new technological advances have arisen from our wish to seek new horizons beyond the earth. We've learned things about gravity, and the lack of it. We've sent probes around Jupiter, Saturn, Mars...we've got pictures from other galaxies, thanks to the Hubble space telescope. We've learned a lot. Science took a quantum leap forward, and I mean that literally, once space exploration began. We discovered new models for both the macro-universe and the micro-universe.
It seems that door of space exploration, which had just started to inch open in my youth, is now closing once again, and we had just begun.
It made sense that we began with the moon. It's the closest object to us in space; we are friends with it; it travels with us around the sun. The moon is the earth's traveling companion. When we went there, we didn't know for sure what we would find. We collected specimens of moon rocks, and that's all there seemed to be there--rocks. Plain, ordinary rocks.
Those rocks from the moon were plain, ordinary rocks. They were composed of basalt (the product of volcanic action); the rare elements contained in them were some traces of anorthite, titanium, and a completely new mineral "armalcolite", named after the first astronauts on the moon: Armstrong, Aldrin, and Colins.
It costs about $100,000 per pound to put something on the moon. If Neil Armstrong weighed 200 pounds, he was the $20-million-dollar man in the moon.
We discovered things we already had postulated: There was very little atmosphere on the moon, and no water. The moon has no plate tectonics, though it does have a core and a mantle, similar to Earth.
And all that expensive technology; those brilliant people inventing brilliant (but EXPENSIVE) ways to defeat Earth's gravity, to plot a path there and back, to protect the vehicle from solar radiation, to deal with zero gravity conditions, to deal with airless conditions; all that--for a bunch of rocks. It might not have seemed worth it, except that the United States was in a space race, at the time. More testosterone around the boardroom table!
The space station costs $100 billion dollars. That's right. $100 billion dollars. Scientists have said, bluntly, "It serves no scientific purpose whatsoever. It is a station to nowhere."
The next scheduled flight to the moon is in 2020, over 50 years after the first flight, which took place on July 20, 1969. It might not happen, even then. President Obama has put several elements of the space program on hold, in the light of the current budget situations.
In the meantime, we still have the light of the silvery moon...so let's spoon away, and let outer space be a mystery, while we develop our inner spaces.