This year is the sixth for the 'Moon Clock'. It is based conceptually on the 'Doomsday Clock' of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. In theory their clock striking midnight would mean charred copies of that publication would drift across ruined cities.
This 'clock' represents the likelihood of a human being standing on the Moon once again. If and when a person stands on Lunar soil again, the time will read midnight!
The prospects of another Moon landing have unchanged since last year, left to the unknowable future due to the political decisions of President Obama and his predecessors. Thus the hands of the Moon Clock remain at 27 minutes past the previous hour, reflecting the virtual abandonment of the idea with latent possibility of revival in a future political climate. The prospects of commercial travel to the Moon are still in the dream stage, once they start sending people into Earth orbit there will at least be potential prospects for Lunar voyages.
The image at top right is a composite of frames from the Apollo 11 video showing the LM and Buzz Aldrin, using overlapping frames to cancel out video noise and overexposure.
Below: Apollo's footprints will last longer than any on Earth exposed to the elements, but over time even on the Moon time changes things. Micrometeorites and subtle soil movements will gradually erase our first footprints on the Moon over perhaps a million years. This unique moment in our history, indeed the coming and going of Man, is but a moment in Moon Time.
The Twentieth Century will be remembered as among other things a time of unprecedented ingenuity and brutality. Once in a great while Great Projects come about where our skills are applied towards things that benefit and inspire the world. Apollo was such a marshaling of the best of our minds and our industry. It was something most of those who worked on believed in deeply. Apollo was not just another canal or weapons system, indeed it was a nationalistic demonstration of the prowess of the United States over the USSR, but it was also a glorious crusade to bring the heavens within our grasp. Apollo 11 gave a magical edge to that eventful summer of 1969, as titanic cultural forces clashed and flowed past each other in America. The Vietnam war was at it's height, demonstrations against it were becoming 'mainstream' and chemical visions colorfully enveloped many young minds. NASA was winning the technological battle but losing the mass appeal it needed to sustain human space exploration. Vietnam was swallowing up much of American discretionary funds, of which NASA as well as many other worthy programs depended. The military backgrounds of most astronauts, a natural choice considering the rigors of such pioneering missions, may have contributed to high profile space flights being largely regarded as part of the Military Industrial Complex, alien to the youth movement which was starting to grab at the reins of power. In retrospect perhaps the biggest mistake NASA made in the Public Relations aspects of Apollo was to never plan to show the world the faces of people on the Moon out of fear of the brief ultraviolet exposure if the sun fell on their faces. Apollo was thus a series of faceless armored forms, a prototype of increasingly negative public associations. The last Lunar expedition gave the world a brief look at Harrison Schmitt raising his visor to give history a rare live look at a human face in a spacesuit on the Moon.
Now people being on the Moon is little more
than an inner vision, and increasing numbers even view it as a
fantasy. Apollo 11 was 43 years ago this summer, and forevermore
it will stand as a sign of the golden age when such things were
possible. Apollo will always be a beacon across the gulf of time,
a benchmark, a peak, and a point of transformation in what was
possible. So long as history is taught the time which brought
about our first steps on another world will attract attention.
If the bulk of our future advanced civilization ever lives outside
the Earth Apollo will stand as the First Step step to those circumstances.
If Humanity never makes it to the Moon again then the fact we
could once do it will mark our era as a time when the accomplishments
of civilization briefly out paced its pitfalls.
Now the Moon is 'old history'. The mighty Saturn V rockets lay displayed like the funeral barges of vanished Pharaohs, and the Moon rocks are shown in museums alongside other artifacts of vanished times. The Moon is receding from us and becoming another Pompeii whose artifacts we marvel at under glass cases.
We have turned our back on the future as a nation and as a people, at least for the time being. We dare not build the largest tower in the world to replace those that fell in New York, 911 broke America's spirit in that arena. The 'New Frontier' of the Kennedy era has long since retreated to our immediate surroundings. The plans to go beyond Low Earth Orbit have almost entirely dissolved into the shifting sands of future possibility. As things stand now after the 12 who were there are all gone, those who remember Apollo will steadily dwindle in number, until some time around 2050. Then Apollo will pass into the mists of history such as the Civil War and recently World War I have done. The Moon walks are mere ghosts on videotape, and all of us may well be ghosts before such things happen again.
Assuming it eventually happens, the next photographs taken of the Apollo footsteps made by Humans or their descendants or even visiting aliens may well show noticeable meteorite pitting across the once fresh footprints accumulated over the ages. How different the Earth's civilizations, language, and operating philosophies or physical forms may be by then!
This year, the 43rd Anniversary of Apollo 11, the Moon is a thin crescent setting in the evening twilight. The day we first dared to make the Moon part of Human experience recedes another year into the twilight between the experiences and memories of the living and the chronicles of dead history. Each year the Moon sheds more of the living memory of those who brought us there, the younger members of 'The Greatest Generation' who came of age during the Second World War. The Moon bears a collective mantle of pride from the generation who made Apollo happen, but the beautiful living memory of the accomplishment steadily blows away like a Tibetan sand painting in the wind. History in retrospect has a sense of inevitability to it, Tolstoy ponders the physical and crowd psychology factors as well as chaos that were in play at the pivotal Battle against Napoleon at Borodino in 1812. So it may be with why Apollo became our 'high water mark' rather than a start of expansion of Human presence in the Solar System. If the 1968 election had elected Hubert Humphrey it seems likely the initial surge of exploration would have continued and broadened. If Vietnam hadn't been the focus of resources that dwarfed those that went into Apollo, discretionary funds spent toward space exploration might have seemed more inviting. Or perhaps not.
The Moon landing also serves as a sign post
in History, a benchmark that is intriguing to ponder where we
were 43 years before 1969, double the reach into the past. It
is sobering like seeing a video of your young self. One is tempted
to compare the progress between those two intervals. And so we
rise above Earth, and will ourselves 86 years into the past to
1926. Earth corkscrews a path through the Universe following the
Sun as the cities shrink, the air clears and the clothes, cars
and a thousand little things change form and flash in and out
of existence. Earth exploration reached another milestone as Richard
E. Byrd and Floyd Bennet first flew a plane over the North Pole
in a 16 hour trip. Science was pushing back the age of Earth past
the one billion year mark, a figure that would under further inquiry
settle on slightly over 4.5 billion years. The world population
was reaching two billion people, about a century after our numbers
at last made the long hard climb since the last Ice Age to reach
Here and there in the world people whose influence would carry far were assuming power. The political rise of Mussolini was completed with his assuming the title 'Il Duce', and he proceeded to make the trains run on time and his enemies run and hide. Hirohito became Emperor of Japan, with his reign to see Japan swing wildly in its fortunes. In Iran, Reza Kahn consolidated his rise to power as Shah and assumed the name 'Pahlavi', balancing his dealings with the Moslem fanatics there between accommodation and open warfare. An obsessive egomaniac named Adolf Hitler published volume two of his antisemetic conspiracy book 'Mein Kampf'. One day it would have the contradictory status of the most bought and least read book in Germany. In the USSR, poor Trotsky was expelled from the Politburo, taking the career Zinoviev and others with him. Opposing Stalin was a good way to be stricken from the Book of life, and retouched out of old photographs. Stalin's daughter, Svetlana, was born in 1926 and died last year.
Movies that are remembered to this day that came out in 1926 include 'Metropolis' and 'Battleship Potemkin'. Rudolph Valentino died this year, grieved by an adoring public as no movie star had been before. Home movies had a new format, 16 mm film. People who would be stars in film and TV born this year include Marilyn Monroe and Andy Griffith. Others we would hear from later that were born in 1926 include Queen Elizabeth II, Fidel Castro, Allen Ginsberg and Hugh Hefner.
In the US, the Roaring Twenties were in full swing. Prohibition had created an 'underground culture' which was to continue over time as opportunistic authorities decided this or that state of mind foreign to them was deemed immoral and made illegal. Open warfare in the streets of Chicago was one public consequence of the nefarious 18th amendment. Inventions of the year include a practical television system, demonstrated in the UK by John Logie Baird, pop up toasters and aerosol spray cans. One invention especially fateful for Humanity first flew March 16, a liquid fueled rocket hand built by Robert H. Goddard. Radio telephone service across the Atlantic was inaugurated between New York and London, as was commercial air mail. The road system of the US allowed greater range for travel than ever before, Route 66 becoming a major path through the nation that year. Cars traveling such highways were being built by the influential industry of Henry Ford, who that year declared a reformatting of his business from a 48 hour 6 day work week to 40 hours and five days. The gas used in the cars cost as low as eighteen cents a gallon.
A book published then and remembered today
is 'Winnie The Pooh' by Alan Alexander Milne. A publication that
is still remembered by many, Amazing Stories', first appeared,
with editor Hugo Gernsback at the helm of the first Science Fiction
magazine. The infant medium of radio had its first major network,
NBC, inaugurated late in the year. Popular songs included 'Bye
Bye Blackbird' and, ironically enough, 'Reaching For The Moon'
by Ben Bernie's orchestra. Listening to the latter song of longing
and lonliness the dreamy glee of a lost time, the idyllic interval
between the World Wars, recedes into the sepia toned mists of
photos in albums and yellowing books on shelves. We travel from
the year of the first rocket that was more than a firework, then
hop to the time of the Great Saturn V which stood as tall as the
fabled Pharos of Alexandria. Both were Wonders of the World, both
Now we see prospects for new rockets and new ways to enter orbit struggling up the development ladders while we pay the Russians to send astronauts to the ISS. We shall see what schemes make it past press conferences, models, and animations. Whatever the uncertainty in our future in space, we at least have advanced a good deal in spacecraft design with the benefit of many lessons gathered along the way. Although there are no efforts being made to land people on the Moon, there is momentum for new generations of roving vehicles remote controlled from Earth, so there are prospects that the Moon will be experienced at least remotely. The day may come when the Moon can be explored with the experience being widely shared in real time in home computers and in domed theaters.
We can hope for the future, but there is nothing
like remembering something yourself, remembering looking at the
Moon and knowing it to be within the realm of Human experience.
Somehow some things seem so impossible, others so inevitable.
What can we make of the forces that once in a great while converge
so miraculously? That so many of us remain to ponder a day when
we dared to stand on another world is comforting, something epochal
like living at the time of a great Prophet that will always be
remembered. Perhaps it is the realization of Human Potential that
can work miracles that is the biggest legacy of Apollo 11. The
Moon sets in our deepening twilight only to rise elsewhere.
Thanks to Jim McDade for referring me to the record 'I'm reaching for the Moon'.
The waning Gibbous Moon rises like a pale yellow
lamp into the warm desert night. The Moon as a place continues
to grow further from us, to be an enthusiastically reported event
in yellowing pages of summaries of the events of 1969. It will,
as all great events of history, live within our culture so long
as the generations who appreciated it lives on. The 'baby Boomer'
generation, tightly defined as the bulge in birth rates between
1947 and 1952 but 'stretched' by generous definition well into
the 60's by some, has never enjoyed more catering to in advertisements
than now. The ability to land on the Moon will not only stand
as an episode of epoch making achievement, the Moon may yet figure
in human adventure to come, if the remaining passenger seat on
a waiting Russian Lunar tourist voyage can be sold. Such a trip
around the Moon may serve to break a psychological barrier we
may have to considering voyages beyond Low Earth Orbit. The more
time passes since the days we marshaled such manpower, the more
fabulous, the less imaginable in todays world and economy such
a thing may seem. The Great Pyramid of Khufu, which I visited
last year, required an average of one stone block being set into
place every few minutes if the entire structure was to be thus
built. 'Liberty Ships', still stored in floating rows in the North
San Francisco Bay, were being turned out at a rate of one every
8 hours in 1943. Such things sound fantastic in todays world however
when talent, money, and a Great Idea to accomplish a goal come
together sometimes wonders can be worked. Such was done in the
magic transformative time of the late 1960's.
The '60s are beginning to be a long time ago. Imagining the time between now and then and then doubling that, to gather sense of perspective in time looking both directions from that hallowed date, is an indulgence I offer again this year. But 42 years ago is too long for increasing numbers of my potential readers to personally share. 42 years ago from the perspective of 1969 was 1927. Silent movies were still being made, but the end was in sight with October's debut of 'The Jazz Singer' starring Al Jolson. The silents still had life in them, evidenced by the premier of the French director Abel Gances' epic 'Napoleon', restored this year. 'It' with Clara Bow, made her the 'It girl' of that year. Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig made baseball headlines. Hit songs of 1927 included 'Ol' Man River' from 'Showboat', and 'Blue Skies'. Ten year old violinist Yehudi Menuhin first performed publicly, starting off with a flourish his life long career. Thomas Edison celebrated the 50th anniversary of his invention of his phonograph. A book from this year destined to be well read ever since is 'Steppenwolf' by Herman Hesse. Transportation for individuals advanced with the introduction of the Ford Model A that year. The exceptional traveler could make historic milestones, like the daring May 20-1 solo crossing of the Atlantic by Charles Lindbergh. The mysterious Mongolian deserts were first being explored by the team of fossil hunter Roy Chapman Andrews, braving dust storms and warlords to among other things find the first dinosaur eggs. Andrews saw the disintegration of the Chinese government from the chaos of his dealings with government representatives then. The Soviet Union had its own government reshuffling going on as Stalin expelled Trotsky and Zinoviev from the Party, thereafter vilifying and liquidating them. A general in Nicaragua made the Americans work to hold ground there, Augusto Sandino. A scurrilous and increasingly volatile Adolf Hitler was released by the German Government from restrictions on his public speaking, addressing the first public meeting of the newly formed National Socialist German Workers Party. In America and Western Europe the 20's seem to be remembered in retrospect as a 'play time' where societal restrictions were being noticeably re evaluated. The 'Roaring 20's, in retrospect might thus be considered a 'distant mirror' of the 60's in some ways.
And so we move back from that time of happy tinny music, past the depression and the New Deal, through the gunfire and bombings of the terrible World War to come, to slow in the post war era and briefly pause to glance at that magnificent Saturn V and launch tower gleaming in a night amid a wide 'fan' of spotlights, about to carry the first man to the Moon. Then we whisk past the Apollo program, past the end of the Vietnam conflict, leaving behind the 70s and their decadence and developments, past the 80's with the next generation asserting themselves, through the Reagan/Bush era and the weaving of the World Wide Web. The re alignments in allies and enemies and the flashes of news great and horrific slow down to place us back here with so much to remember between now and then.
The Moon is pale and bright high in the warm desert sky now, helping hide the Milky Way. Bats dart about hunting flying insects. The Moon still lights up the desert rocks, our rooftops and our paths. It still looms as something to reflect upon as past ages never could. A reminder of what was and is possible, and will be for some time to come. Somehow I think there will be people up there again within the lifetimes of many who remember being able to go to the Moon. This is admittedly an article of faith now, but so has it been for so many years! Those of you who were born too late to remember, to me its importance was such that given a choice I would never be born significantly apart from my actual time at the end of the 'baby Boom' surge. Such is the magic the Moon still holds for we who remember. May the choices be made so you can have your own moments of looking up at the Moon and knowing there are people up there.
July 20, 2011
1969 is beginning to be a long time ago. The recent abandonment of the Moon as a factor in Human affairs makes it seem a little longer, bringing the wonderful images of Apollo into the cavalcade of images of the grandeur of past civilizations. Newer political leaders try to make changes from the past course and sometimes delight in erasing the pet projects started by their predecessors, like the new pharaohs defacing the statues and monuments of their forebears. The previous year has not been kind to those who yearn to see the Moon returned to Human reach. Between the economic convulsions and the political reappraisals of the times, it seems hard to justify establishing a settlement on another world. It is clear that only a small minority of enthusiasts even care about such things. The Space Station was conceived as a stepping stone to the Beyond, it has instead contracted its mission to represent the sole permanent Human presence in space. After the retirement of the remnants of the Shuttle fleet the US will lack any means to reach the ISS itself, until commercial launch systems can hopefully be weaned into handling the task. Other countries make occasional statements about going to the Moon, but when it's all said and done there is a lot more said than done. In the mean time the U.S. orbiter continues to map the Moon in unprecedented detail with its final data set promising to be a treasure. If and when future civilizations want to go the the Moon, if the data (and our technology) survive that long it will prove useful to them.
Using 1969 as a 'time mirror' is intriguing to visualize the intervals of time on both sides of that pivotal moment in history. Now the time interval since 1969, applied to before Apollo, takes us to 1928. In aeronautics the Atlantic Ocean was still the subject of firsts, such as Amelia Earhart's first flight across it by a woman. The gargantuan Graf Zeppelin made its first passenger crossing of the Atlantic. Our ability to probe the universe improved with the completion of the 200 inch telescope at Mt. Palomar, for decades to come the largest telescope in the world. The eventual rocket trips to the Moon were first seriously visualized in the German Science Fiction film 'Frau im Mond', by Fritz Lang. who as a dramatic device for the film invented the 'countdown', later adopted in rocket launches and atomic tests! Medical news was highlighted by the discovery of antibiotic properties of the Penicillium mold by Alexander Fleming. Events in the world made news and contributed to the flow of events. Hirohito was crowned Emperor of Japan. Haile Selassie was crowned King of Ethiopia under the name Ras Tafari. Radio and films were the mass media, with the Will Rogers 'cowboy philosopher' broadcasts beginning, and the movies showing a new comedy team named Laurel and Hardy. Television was trying to emerge from the experimental workbenches, as the first receiving sets made in the US were offered for sale. Among the births of the year 1928 were Andy Worhol, Stanley Kubrick, Shirley Temple and Ernesto 'Che' Guevara.
And so another year passes, and the Moon becomes a steadily dwindling collective memory, the time when we could go there dying along with the people who remember it. Some day the last person who remembers will see the Moon and be reminded of a time unknown to everyone else alive then, presumably in the 2060's, as now the last veterans of the 'War to End All Wars', the First World War, are leaving us. The time before WW I was written of by H.G. Wells in his 'Outline of History' as a golden age never to be regained. Will Apollo 11 look the same as Living Memory of the Moon drains away? There are dreams of commercial space flight, but even sending people to Low Earth Orbit is now a long ways away with such means. Commercial justification for trips to the Moon seem to be a pipe dream. Still, we who remember know it could be done, and until Peak Oil consumption happens and closes it's fist around civilization it can be done again. May there still be some who remember if it happens again. May our being on the Moon never pass from living memory.
This year sees a Moon which has been recently orbited by probes launched by Japan, China and India, and the USA now has a well equipped orbiter scanning our neighbor world. It is good to see attention paid again to our shining neighbor in the heavens, always beckoning, still perhaps to be one day revisited by people. As a new administration takes over, the political continuity once again undergoes a convulsive reappraisal of ongoing priorities. NASA spent months without a new administrator being named, while the biggest economic down turn since the Great Depression was in progress. It is hard to imagine voyages to the Moon will last long among the priorities. Nagging doubts about the new rockets involved plague the process even as hardware is taking shape. The sands of time are running out for the Shuttle program, and the interval to come in which the USA will lack a capability to launch people into space looms ahead as an uncomfortable uncertainty. The time line for an actual landing on the Moon keeps being pushed further into the indefinite future.
In the mean time careful searches of government paper trails have at last revealed the fate of the fabled slow scan telemetry data of the Apollo 11 television transmissions. Many years ago all the data tapes were gathered, erased and recycled due to a shortage of tape stock in times of reduced funding. Thus perished the best quality Apollo 11 television signal before it was compromised by the video converters of the time. Scraps recorded in Australia on super 8 film of the superior signal provided by the Honeysuckle Creek facilities are all that exist. Tantalizing clues linger of another pair of missing Australian tapes possibly bearing a copy of the slow scan data. NASA gave a media briefing in July 16 admitting the loss but also showing samples of efforts to optimize the appearance of the best surviving video copies of the Apollo 11 EVA video. In a process similar to the restoral of a nearly lost silent film from scraps scattered world wide, video from news networks and other sources was gathered and duplicated with modern methods. Samples of the ongoing work were shown which were clean of 'snow' and other noise but suffered reduced detail compared to the originals.
As the Moon we saw revealed that wonderful July day shines down upon us, the percentage of those who remember it as I do steadily declines. It has been 40 long years since TV gave us the first shadowy images of fellow human beings on another world, 40 years since the Heavens welcomed us when we ventured beyond Earth. It is getting harder to anticipate a New Frontier beyond the Earth as we could back then. A journey starts with the first step, and 40 years ago that first step marked what is beginning to look like a 'high water mark' rather than the start of a trend. The Moon was a waxing crescent when we first visited it, today the Moon is a waning crescent, fading with more of the lives of those who made it's first human visits possible. Walter Cronkite, a man whose journalistic professionalism helped generations appreciate the importance of the Space Program and so much else died July 17. Another giant of those times thus passes into history, part of the silent migration from the living to the dead of those who remember the days when we dared to dream big. The passing of time invites looking across the panorama of memory, leaping onward to the recorded knowledge left by those who have come before. 40 years is a long time, the events in that snippit of the Time Line inviting sober reflection. Using Apollo 11 as the 'reference point' centered between 40 years of it's past and future is an interesting exercise. In this moment of history we are ending a brief interval where a small number of people have lived to see three centuries in their life times.
What was our world like 40 years before Apollo 11? Twice the distance into the past takes us a lifetime away, where many WW I vets and indeed those of the Civil War were still telling their stories. A spectacular silent film set in WW I, 'Wings' won the first Academy Award for best picture that year. The silent movies were fading fast, with directors using sound as soon as it was practical such as Hitchcock's 'Blackmail', Britian's first 'talking picture'. For home movie makers Kodak introduced 16mm color movie film. An enduring song released that year was 'Singin' In The Rain'. 80 years ago a connection with America's 'Old West' faded with the passing at age 80 of lawman and gunfighter Wyatt Earp. Contemporary crime took on an intensity possible with machine guns with the Chicago 'St. Valentines Day Massacre', where seven men were slain in a beer warehouse sparking public outrage destined to end the flamboyant career of 'Scarface' Al Capone. The October 28 Wall Street 'Black Friday' brought catastrophic losses to the stock market, beginning a convulsive transition to a poorer America where millions of people learned to make do with next to nothing. In the Soviet Union Leon Trotsky paid the price for opposing the absolute rule of Joseph Stalin, banishment and months of being a hunted 'man without a country'. Human access to distant locations improved. The Graf Zeppelin, leaving from Lakehurst, NJ, flew around the world in the record time of 21 days 7 hours 26 minutes. Coast to coast passenger air service in the US commenced that year, making several stops and sleeping in trains at night during the 36 hour trip. The world was rapidly becoming accessible to growing numbers of people even if few could afford to go anywhere. In 1929 we were reaching our furthest at the time, as the first flight over the South pole by Admiral Richard Byrd took place, and building the highest with the beginning of construction of the Empire State Building, tallest building in the world for many years to come.
Looking both 'directions' 40 years from Apollo 11 brings us a widening view of the evolution and faltering of our progress in expanding the places people can experience. The dream that Apollo 11 was the first step in Human presence being established elsewhere dies hard among those of us who treasure our recall of that magic time. It is a dream for a time when Ability meets Will, a realization of a potential we will always know can be done because it has been done.
Once again the gulfs of time are seen to have spread a little more widely, a few more people connected with the journeys to the Moon are gone, and museums show replicas and rarer real artifacts of the era when our reach extended to other places a person could stand on. Now the world is a harder place to work such miracles. The will do do great things is being sapped by the cost of energy and other economic tremblings causing people to look at the stability of their banks rather than up at the frontiers above. Now oil money is funding the tallest structure ever conceived, a mile high skyscraper in Saudi Arabia. The old 'Spirit of America' which once exulted in doing the formally impossible is in 'traction' with only time telling how well any renewal will proceed. The greatest thing coming from the Moon this year has been the amazing HDTV transmissions from the Japanese KAGUYA (SELENE) spacecraft. For the first time since the Apollo era stunning video can be seen passing over familiar Lunar landmarks, and showing Earth rising and setting behind the Moon. These images are better than any moving images from the Moon that Apollo has left us. In the mean time the digital archiving of Apollo photography is proceeding, the results of which will be priceless.
The past extends to Apollo 11 from now through a gulf of 39 years, and again the leap of the same step further back brings us to 1930. The question nags along the way, was progress faster and more vigorous in that time interval before Apollo 11 or the years afterwards? The answer is obviously yes to faster recent progress in some realms, but in others, such as our powers to spend the vast sums preparing for wars on noble things to enrich mankind, we are as helpless as lemmings massing for the next march off the cliff. One has to look at the progress of air and space flight since 1930 to 1969 to wonder if we have since reached the point of 'diminishing' returns regarding breakthroughs in those fields. Around 1930 the world population was 2 billion people, less than a third of todays. Banks were failing in 1930, the Bank of the United States in New York taking with it the savings of half a million people. Flash bulbs were introduced, at last allowing instantaneous photos to be captured in dim light. The first 'supermarkets' appeared in the US that year. A Yellow Fever vaccine eased the death rate due to that cause. Investigations of the outer Solar System rewarded Clyde Tombaugh with the discovery of the last of the 'classic planets', distant Pluto. Today a spacecraft speeds toward that small icy world, no longer officially a planet but now known to have numerous moons. It may be that true exploration of space is fated to be a vicarious experience through the extensions of our senses provided in faraway places by far flung robot probes. But there was a time when human beings did the exploring, and the furthest we have thus collectively reached is still remembered by a large but ageing percentage of the populace. The Moon looms bright over the uncertain world on this anniversary, bearing the remnants of our journeys there. Some day those may be the longest surviving artifacts of human existence on this world.
This year the anniversary of Apollo gives us a Moon looking something as it did that glorious July day, when it was a waxing crescent in the warm evening skies. To be alive then and able to recall the moment when Humanity existed on more than one world is a treasure beyond words. 'White Bird' by 'It's A Beautiful Day' hangs in my mind, one of the memories of that wondrous era when the fabric of reality itself was being explored on a number of fronts. The collective journeys took some of us along in the adventure of Apollo, for many others the 'Space Program', as it was called when there indeed was such a thing, seemed irrelevant.The 'Vision for Space Exploration' is proceeding in methodic but languid fashion, with things looking scary on the hardware front. The new launch vehicles being developed for the VSE are fighting weight and performance problems even as the designs begin to be acted upon. The new Lunar Lander is gaining weight at a terrifying rate, as did the Apollo LM in its development days. The engineering problems are one thing, assuring political support over the required time after changes in administrations is another. It is still the most hopeful period of time since the end of Apollo for those who long to see live TV from the Moon again. The post World War II national mind set to 'be the greatest' and to 'build the biggest' and otherwise proudly show what we can do may be faltering, but perhaps it is just the basic improbability of any given idea being given life by a group of resourceful people and money. A troubling sign that our 'spirit' may have been broken by '911' is that we seem to be afraid to build the tallest building in the world because of the evacuation time required. If China or some other nation managed to return to the Moon only a minority of Americans may feel 'left behind' by then. In the mean time there has been no luck in finding any of the three copies of the original telemetry tapes of the Apollo 11 television broadcast. It is another year to look at the images we have, and admire the accomplishment. The 'inner flame' in my heart has the Moon over it. I don't care what percentage of people don't believe Apollo happened, either it will happen again in their time or it won't.
The look back in time is instructive, because by now a large percentage of my readers will remember the events of 38 years ago but not those of 76 years ago, double the interval of time between now and Apollo 11. In 1931 Thomas Alva Edison, American inventor (with help) of electric lights, sound and motion picture recording and many other things, died. A plan to shut off all the electrical devices in the United States for a minute in tribute was compromised because by then electricity had become essential in too many ways. Unemployment was a global pandemic, with starvation being averted by narrow margins in some places across the industrialized world. Prominent gangster Al Capone was finally imprisoned in 1931 from tax evasion charges. As a haranguing rabble rouser named Hitler cajoled his way to power, German films like 'M' by Fritz Lang marked the last breath of creative freedom to come from there for some time. American horror films entered a golden era of sorts with the release of 'Dracula' starring Bela Lugosi and 'Frankenstein' with Boris Karloff. In art a well remembered painting was created by quintessential surrealist Salvador Dali, 'The Persistence of Memory', with it's sagging watches in a dreamy setting. Looking back promotes looking forward. When 38 years have passed, will we have bases on other worlds or will even being in orbit appear as distant as Apollo does to us today?
The heritage of Apollo is crumbling into dust and flying away in the wind. The pristine data recorded from the Moon at the Australia Honeysuckle Creek Observatory have only recently been recognized as bearing the best quality recording of the Apollo 11 moon walk video, yet searches for the boxes of tapes have turned up nothing. The last tape machine able to play those data tapes rests in a facility scheduled for closing later this year. While the best video was apparently allowed to become lost, the carefully archived Lunar samples have over the years due to failed seals become contaminated by air and humidity, to the point that much of the information hoped to be gathered from yet untested Lunar material has perished. The Moon fades from our grasp like an aging mountaineer putting off for too long revisiting a challenging climb. The current plans to return to the Moon are faltering under the burden of bad planning which sows the seeds of its own failure. there is still hope that the writer as well as the reader of these words will live to see people on the Moon again, however it is increasingly becoming a matter of faith. Gazing again at the widening gulf of time on either side of the great year of 1969 brings us to regard not only the 37 years since then, but at what that same interval ending at Apollo 11 carries us to. In 1932 the West was still mired in the Great Depression. Newly elected President Franklin Roosevelt introduced the phrase 'The New Deal' in his acceptance speech, while that year U.S.Veterans once again got a 'raw deal' as their Washington DC tent city was demolished in a bloody army raid led by General Douglas MacArthur. What for decades was considered the 'Crime of the Century' tragically unfolded as the Lindbergh baby was kidnapped then found dead after the ransom was paid. The same daring flight Lindbergh had accomplished five years previously was done by Amelia Earhart that year. Short wave radio was first tested by Marconi, an invention which brought radio programming to world wide audiences. Werner Heisenberg was earning the Nobel prize of that year for formulating Quantum Mechanics while James Chadwick shed more light on the building blocks of matter by discovering the Neutron. And what of our end of the 'double time line'? To one yearning for a return to the Moon, the ray of hope offered recently is getting harder to see. In a few decades the last of those who remember watching TV from the Moon will be regarded with the patient indulgence of the young for the ravings of the aged. But as long as we live we will carry within us the sacred memories of the most privileged generation in history, that which combined the daring and abilities of an affluent post war America to accomplish great things. And the Moon continues to loom over us all, slipping from a place open to Humanity to a shape changing light in the sky as the ancients knew it.
Using Apollo 11 as a 'time mirror' to survey the widening gulf between then and now is sobering.Traveling 36 years before Apollo 11 brings us to the year 1933, the year the Austrian demagogue Adolf Hitler celebrated his rise to power in Germany with fires fueled by piles of books as well as by the Reichstag. It was the year FDR declared "The only thing we have to fear is...fear itself!". 1933 was the year FM radio was first demonstrated, as was broadcasting of the first educational Television programming, from the Iowa State University station W9XK. The faltering film company RKO was saved by the 'monster' hit film 'King Kong' featuring the animated models of Willis O'Brien and the screams of Fay Wray. The year ended with widespread celebration as the disastrous imposition of Prohibition came to an end. Now the Moon has moved a little farther away. More people born after this time never knew what it was like to live in a civilization capable of sending men to other worlds, and fewer of those who know remain. Few people even see returning to the Moon as worthwhile, however the trend is toward smaller percentages of the population feeling strongly about almost anything. This year there is more hope that it could happen again, however this writer who has seen hopes raised and dashed before patiently awaits signs of dreams becoming reality. When designs are frozen and hardware is being built that will be the time to look at the Moon not as a sign of the past but of the future.
35 Years have now passed since Apollo 11, and when again using the 'historical mirror image' approach we see that 35 years before the year 1969 Prohibition had just ended in America, and famous criminals Bonnie and Clyde as well as John Dillinger died in hails of police bullets. Yuri Gagarin, first man in space, and astronomer Carl Sagan were born in 1934, the same duration before Apollo 11 as we now are from that great event. Adolf Hitler proclaimed that year that his Third Reich would last 1000 years, and with the death of German President Paul Von Hindenburg he consolidated his power with the aid of his army of thugs. Time is leaving behind the world of voyages to the Moon as surely as the events between the first two World Wars, all receding into the fog of the dead past. There has been a flurry of hope this year that a return to the Moon may be in the works, but considering the source does not necessarily engender confidence. Besides the uncertainty of a highly polarized election, money does not seem to be eagerly offered to make hardware out of paper dreams. At least as preliminary support for renewed flights to the Moon, renewed robot exploration may well happen even if the manned flights do not follow. In the mean time Apollo 11 still stirs proud memories in those old enough to remember. The Moon eternally beckons to us as a place we have been, and of a time when we dared to accomplish something great during a brief interval when we could afford to. Perhaps we will again soon. Hope is something to cling to when it is offered and this year we have at least a little of that thrown our way.
It is sad to contemplate the wasted opportunities of the decades since we threw away our ability to visit other worlds. Looking at the 'mirror timeline' centered on 1969 assists in grasping what an interval of time has been wasted. 34 years have passed since Apollo 11, and 34 years before then brings us into the world of the American 'Dust Bowl' climatic catastrophe, the enactment of the U.S. Social Security Act, the introduction of the Douglas DC-3 airplane passenger service, and the marketing of the first modern plastic based color film, Kodachrome. Little by little the world of 1969 becomes as extinct and abstract as the era opposite Apollo 11 on the time line. One day the very thought of being able to go to the moon will seem as fantastic as the legends woven into religion, with tales of miracles which no longer happen.
Another year passes since we could go to the Moon, soon it will be a third of a century since Apollo 11. The belief that Apollo was a hoax has gained ground since last year. As long as the Moon is beyond our reach, legends and lies will continue to be poured into the mix of the circulating ideas. Once the last of us who remember people landing on the Moon are dead, the disbelievers will gain ground significently. When real events are in short supply, legend will move in to take their place. The night of the anniversary I gazed at the Moon with the satisfaction of knowing it was once possible to travel there, and that I will die knowing of an age when miracles like that were possible.
The Moon still lives in our minds, but it has also passed into the realm of dreams as much as if it had never happened. There is increasing exposure since last year to the idea that Apollo was a hoax! A science television program on as I write this is spending time to refute this 'conspiracy theory', followed by a segment on the problems museums are having with preserving deteriorating Apollo spacesuits. It seems increasingly unlikely that human footprints will ever be made on the Moon again. This is subject to things changing, of course, but such changes seem beyond the horizon on a continuing basis.
Yet again we pass a yearly landmark many of us remember, the mission of Apollo 11. Every year the wonder returns, the Moon in the sky reminds us of what once was, and the fact that we were once capable of great things brings inner comfort for a moment. I continue to await any sign of some change in the current restriction of humanity to Low Earth Orbit.
When I was a child there were still veterans of the Civil War alive. Hopefully some of us who remember will still be lucid enough to appreciate the second generation HDTV views some future visitors to other worlds will beam back to Earth. While waiting for that day I will always carry with me the transcendent feeling of looking up at the Moon and knowing there were people up there at that moment, and then walking indoors and seeing them live on TV! In time such things we remember may seem miraculous, but such are the hazards of events passing from living memory. May the Moon never pass from living memory.