Sure, we can put a man on the moon, but we can’t put–oh, right.

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Eugene Cernan walks on the moon, Dec 13, 1972

I’m skeptical of the usefulness of manned spaceflight, even as I believe in its long-term necessity. (Besides, should it be necessary for humans to leave Earth, we could get that going on fairly short order. The technology’s straightforward, even if we don’t have interplanetary ships today.)

I was born almost a decade after the last time a human stepped foot on the moon. The Apollo program was Cold War nose-thumbing and sabre-rattling at its most blatant. It was a corporate boondoggle on a scale scarcely seen since. It was a distraction from the horrors of Vietnam and from the waning popularity of two Presidents.

Landing on the moon was also the most impressive thing humans have ever achieved.

Despite all its flaws, I’ve been a big supporter of the space program for my entire life. Building better telescopes and probes is absolutely necessary for the same reasons the Large Hadron Collider is necessary: because if we don’t seek out knowledge about the universe, if we don’t appreciate it, what the hell is the point?

36 years ago today, Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt stepped into their lunar module and returned home, the last humans to step foot on another world. That’s not appreciating it, guys.

4 Responses to “Sure, we can put a man on the moon, but we can’t put–oh, right.”

  1. AnneDroid

    It is by far, more cost-effective and efficient to send probes and bots to the locations about which we wish to learn more.

    If it’s a choice between learning the history of water (and atmosphere) on Mars via robotic rovers, or a few weeks’ jaunt on the surface by a couple of humans, I would advocate the mission of knowledge.

    But that I think, points out the fundamental problem: without public enthusiasm, the cost of either mission may be too steep. A home-grown superman reaching out to distant worlds is far more rousing and propgandizable than an important chunk of information.

    Obviously, I have a bias toward more space exploration, and I find it sad that the general sentiment considers it of secondary importance (at best).

    Perhaps one wayto satify both the average TV watcher’s voyueristic interests and still attain an important step toward deeper exploration would be constructing a (semi-) permanent lunar base.

    In any case, I’ll put my support behind more space exploration, even if it is just for PR and photo ops.

    As for the “if evacuation is necessary” statement, we may not know with enough advance notice that it’s time to do so — and I’m not sure that my government could agree on a specific solution given a year to do so (and when they do so, it’d probably be the wrong choice — but that’s another discussion).

  2. AnneDroid

    It occurs to me, with the opening of the half-billion dollar movie Avatar, that the human race has likely spent more money on movies about space than it has on actual space travel.

  3. Gayle Thornbury

    Hi Catherine,
    I just read your June 2009 blog about your injuries and Kelvin Tam. I’ve been going to Kelvin for years — he helps me immensely every time I’ve needed him, so no complaints there! I also suffer from low muscle mass (especially abdomen and back), which I believe has caused most of my lower and upper back, and neck problems over many years. I am only 5’6″, but seem to suffer from muscles and ligaments that are too short for my body (poor flexibility and stretching is very difficult and painful). I just wanted to tell you that besides Kelvin, the one thing that has finally helped me (for the very long term, I am sure) is hot Bikram yoga. It was absolute torture for me at first, as my heart must be weak, and the back strengthing exercises made me want to puke, and I could hardly do them at all, but I saw a very dim light at the end of a tunnel, and continued going (I can sometimes do 2 sessions a week now — some people go every day — whatever!) I’ve had less back and neck pain (almost none) since completing a year of the yoga (again, only going once per week, or less!). So I just wanted to suggest that to you as an alternative — I used to run and cycle, but they overdevelop your quads and then your flexibility in your hams and back decreases and it’s all bad, so I’m off running and cycling until I see a dramatic improvement in my flexibility with Bikram (I’ve been going 2.5 yrs, and keep seeing improvement — I plan to go the rest of my life). I go to the Commercial Drive location and think they’re great!
    My 2c worth.