Apollo 11’s Lunar Module reached Mare Tranquillitatis fifty years ago this month. I remember hearing Neil A. Armstrong announce the landing site’s name: “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”
A few hours later, Armstrong opened the Lunar Module’s MESA — a storage locker built into the lander’s side.
A television camera in the MESA showed us Armstrong’s, and humanity’s, first step onto another world.
Back on Earth, one out of every five people were watching: at home, in pubs, at cafes, in New York’s Central Park and at shop windows. Pope St. Paul VI watched at the Castle Gandolfo observatory. Folks in Moscow watched, too: with a four-hour tape delay.1
Following their agent’s instructions, Vanilla Fudge arrived in North Hampton, Ohio. The concert was in Northhampton Township, near Dayton.
India’s Prime Minister nationalized 14 private banks. The banks held about three-quarters of Indian deposits. Jayaprakash Narayan called the move a “masterstroke of political sagacity.” And that’s another topic.
Thailand’s Royal Rainmaking Project flew its first field experiment, seeding clouds over the Khao Yai National Park. Results were mixed. Rain fell from the clouds, but not over the target area.2
They were outside the Lunar Module for two and a quarter hours; setting up equipment, collecting photos and setting up equipment: and, 25 feet from the Lunar Module, an American flag.
That was a tad too close. The Lunar Module ascent stage exhaust toppled the Lunar Flag Assembly — flag, mast and all. The incident’s fraught with symbolism, and may have inspired solemn soliloquies on the futility of it all. Or maybe not.
The Tranquility Base science equipment lasted longer.
PSEP, the Passive Seismic Experiment Package, stayed active for 21 days. The Laser Ranging Retroreflector, LRRR, is still used. Occasionally.3
They had a point.
America in the late Sixties was not a new Camelot. Our government hadn’t abolished poverty and avenged all injustices.
I might have been more impressed by anti-Apollo protests, if social activists had protested Super Bowl ads and the Academy Awards with equal enthusiasm. Maybe they did, and I didn’t notice.4
Somewhere along the line, “if we put men on the moon, why can’t we…” stopped sounding relevant — and joined “relevance” wherever cliches go as they fade away.
I don’t think designing, testing and building technology that sent a few folks to Earth’s moon and back is more important than people. But doing that is arguably easier than solving ancient social ills.
If the choice had been to either make spaceships or help people, I’d pick helping people. It’s a matter of priorities. I think people are more important than things.
I’m not convinced that dealing with social ills or developing technology really was an either-or situation.
Scenarios where Our Hero must save either The Professor’s notes or a Pauline clone can make good stories.5
Sometimes life is that simple. But not often, I think.
I thought so before becoming a Catholic. What’s changed is what I know about why being human is okay.
We’re told that God creates everything, and sees it as “very good.”
Humanity isn’t God’s greatest blunder.
As Supreme Being said in Monty Python’s “Time Bandits,” “I think it has something to do with free will.” (November 6, 2016)
The Catholic Church goes into a bit more detail on the subject.
There’s a considerable gap between how we should act and what we actually do. We’re dealing with consequences of a bad choice. That makes doing what’s right is difficult. Putting it mildly. (Genesis 3:1–13; Catechism, 397–409, 1776–1794, 1849–1869)
Thinking that logical consequences happen isn’t even close to believing that we’re “loathsome insects,” and that’s yet another topic. (January 8, 2018)
We can misuse science and technology.
Cities “undimmed by human tears” are an unfulfilled dream. (July 4, 2019)
Folks who should know better act badly. Injustice happens. (February 17, 2019)
Ranting about the unfairness of it all is an option. So is writhing in agony over humanity’s collective angst: and trying to make you feel miserable, too. Neither seem like good ideas.
Instead, I’ll recap what I keep saying.
I don’t see a problem with noticing non-wretched events. Or maybe even celebrating when something goes right. And paying attention to what needs fixing.
Maybe I’ll have that ready by July 20: the Apollo 11 landing’s anniversary.
My reason, or excuse, for not having that bit ready is that my oldest daughter arrived last week for a visit.
As I said before, it’s a matter of priorities. While my daughter was here, I could use my time for writing, or talking with her. I figured the writing could wait. I’ve already got part of the ‘before Apollo’ post ready, so finishing it by Saturday seems reasonable.
- “Commercial Spaceflight: Another Step”
(March 8, 2019)
- “Space ‘Firsts:’ New Horizons, Chang’e-4”
(January 18, 2019)
- “InSight on Mars: Now What?”
(November 30, 2018)
- “GSLV, Rocket Lab: Looking Good”
(June 9, 2017)
- “Europa, Mars, and Someday the Stars”
(September 30, 2016)
- “Transmission: from the Sea of Tranquility to planet Earth”
Greg Whitmore, The Guardian (July 9, 2019)
- Royal Rainmaking Project
- “History of Banking In India”
Bankers Daily (February 15, 2017)
- Weather modification’s (nearly) last hurrah