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Monday, October 3, 2011

Four Reasons We Should Return To The Moon

                    One of my earliest vacation memories involves my family’s legendary trip to California in 1977.  My intrepid father loaded the five of us into a Chevy van, tied a twenty-three foot WorldWide travel trailer to the end of it, and drove us across the continent of North America, hitting every cool tourist trap along the way.  The pinnacle of our trip was of course Disneyland.  I still remember it fondly and can still see all of its wonderfully magical rides in my head.  If I ever get to longing for my lost youth, you can be sure that’s where I’m longing to return: Disneyland, in the summer of 1977.
                    That trip was over 34 years ago.  I never returned, but I did recreate it with my own children at a slightly larger and more fantastical Disney World a few years back.  I hope my kids will cherish it in the same way I cherish that earlier, magical time.
                    It is hard for me to believe that an even longer period of time has elapsed since Mankind’s magical trip to the moon.  This December will mark the 39th anniversary of our last trip to that great hunk of cheese in the night sky.  Eugene Cernan was the last man to walk on the moon in 1972.  The general consensus seems to be that we simply lost interest in these trips.  It was expensive, dangerous, and no one really cared anymore.  There was no reason to return.
                    I disagree.
                    Here are four good reasons to go back.

1.  Litter Reclamation
            During our six manned trips to the moon, as well as the nearly one dozen Lunar unmanned missions by the Soviets, all of which occurred in the 60’s and 70’s, we managed to leave over 180 tons of junk.  It is no coincidence that this happened during the great age of pollution, as witnessed by Iron Eyes Cody in the famous Keep America Beautiful campaign.  Perhaps there should have been a follow-up commercial with Cody standing on the moon—Keep Luna Beautiful.
            It seems the moon is cluttered with not only multiple descent stages of the Apollo programs as well as the many crashed Lunar Orbiters and Land Rovers, but also unseemly objects such as urine and feces bags from NASA astronauts who obediently jettisoned such items in the name of weight conservation.  Being a part of the new, enlightened society we live in, we are all well aware that such desecration is inexcusable.  I’m sure there would be plenty of college students willing to spend a Spring Break weekend on a Lunar Cleanup Project.  And this should be done quickly, if only to spare us the embarrassment of extra-terrestrials visiting our moon and discovering our blatant disregard for public hygiene.
            Altruistic reasons aside, I’m sure the EBay value of the items left behind would be astronomical.  (Pun intended—I’m not this clever accidentally, you know.)  Consider the chance to bid on Alan Shepard’s golf balls.  He reportedly drove a golf ball a half a mile, though I’ve heard similar claims by golfers that always sound a bit fishy, so who’s to say he was telling the truth?  At any rate, golf ball collectors have been known to spend over fifteen thousand dollars for the little dimpled darlings.  The bids for those two balls would be out-of-this-world.
            Basically, the moon has been left in disarray and it is about time we stepped up and cleaned up the mess we so thoughtlessly made.

2.  Priceless Moon Videos on YouTube
            Forget cute cat videos.  Dangerous stunts by idiotic teenagers?  Boring.  Covers songs by overweight young men living in their parent’s house who are just beginning to learn the guitar?  Please!  None of these would be as e-mailable or Facebook-postable as low-gravity Moon antics.  I say, put cute cats on the moon and watch them bounce around like slow-motion bouncy-balls.  Allow idiotic teenagers to attempt skateboarding tricks in .17 gravity.  I guarantee that I would forward this kind of thing to my family and friends.  Of course, I doubt that a skate-boarder’s pants would sag significantly enough in low gravity to irritate me to the point that I would be happy that said idiot launched himself into deep space attempting an Ollie grab off a lunar half pipe.  But I’d still send it on into the e-mail and Facebook cosmos if only to generate didactic conversations from parents everywhere about kid safety and childhood anecdotes.  Parent Toppers could toss out stories of child disfigurement with greater and greater magnitude until their attention flipped to a cute picture of a toddler wearing a Chicago Cubs shirt.
            After we’ve had our fun, we could watch videos of the devastation left from meteor impacts, or somber, silent film of the Sea of Tranquility littered with the destructive rubbish foisted upon its pristine wilderness by evil government agencies.  I tear up just thinking about it.  I think I see a public service segment and PowerPoint presentation coming with these stark images accompanied by a Sarah McLachlan dirge.  If only the moon had indigenous peoples!  Their plight would be unforgettable.
            To date, due to the scratchy, blurred videos available from those early moon landings, we lack any decent HD clips of this poignant landscape.  A return trip to the lunar surface would do well to fill this tragic vacuum.  (Get it?  You see, the atmosphere of the moon is so thin it is almost…never mind.)

3.  GoogleMoon?
            It’s going to happen eventually.  Why not use it to finance the trip back?  Naming Rights are a popular way to advertise nowadays; just think of the bidding war that would ensue over the chance for companies to stick their logo on the moon.  I would be in favor of Facebook doing this, since you could color the moon in Facebook blue with that little f stuck in the middle of it.  This could only happen once in a blue moon.
            The commercialization of the moon would certainly arouse critics and cynics but since when has that ever stopped someone from making a buck or two?  The United Nations might need to intervene in order to prevent Facebook from actually painting the surface of the moon in their trademark color or etching the surface with their f logo, but I’m sure something could be worked out.  (Incidentally, I find it arrogant that Facebook has appropriated the color of Superman’s tights.  That just seems wrong to me.  I know Zuckerberg is powerful, but Superman he ain’t.)
            Pizza companies might get into that bidding war.  (Cue Dean Martin!...think about it...)  I could think of any number of commercial logos that would be more appropriately stenciled into the moon over NASA’s own logo.  More than likely this would end up becoming a Disney development with a Mickey Mouse Space Resort.  Though we might all cringe at the idea, we would undoubtedly take our families there regardless of the cost.  I’m pretty sure the most horrifying branding of the moon would be one by Wal-Mart.  Sure, it might mean more jobs for humanity, but they wouldn’t pay very well and none of them would be full-time.

4.   Reclaim NASA’s pride
Artwork by Robert McCall
            When I was a little astronaut wannabe, and back then every boy dreamed of walking on the moon, NASA was an awe-inspiring agency.  These guys were the rock-stars of science.  They blew us away with moon-walks, Skylab, and (the first few times) the Space Shuttle.  We all eagerly drank Tang, imagined running around a giant vertical hamster track, and wished with all our might to be chosen as the first man to reach Mars.  (I was actually more interested in getting a seat on the flight to Venus.  After all, Zsa Zsa Gabor was waiting, you know.)  But the point is, Space was cool as all get out!
            Enter the NASA of the late Eighties and beyond.  Repeated Space Shuttle flights that went nowhere, performing unnamed and unwanted tests of every kind.  The shuttle didn’t even look exciting; more like a loaf of Wonder bread with wings.  Not cool.  Even worse, the next great idea was a telescope.  A big camera with a telephoto lens, really.  A chance to take pictures of stars, which look like white dots on a black canvas to our eyes, and looks like pretty much the same thing from the Hubble’s perspective.  Heck, we don’t need to go to Mars, we can peer closely at it!  Oh, please, it’s my turn to look!  Next up was the Pathfinder Mission, in which we threw a spacecraft at Mars, allowing it to bounce its way to the surface.  It all looked pretty sophisticated until the whole plan was nearly ruined by our own airbags blocking the ramp and preventing the rover from driving off on its little mission.  So we took pictures of Mars.  Wow.  Isn’t that what Hubble did?
            We are told that all of this testing is important to the safety of any would-be explorers.  It is as if we are trying to make exploring Space devoid of any danger.  I suppose that’s comforting to the wives or husbands of future astronauts, but seriously, let’s get a little tough and take a few risks now and then.  Columbus did not sail out one hundred miles into the Atlantic then return to analyze his data for twenty years.
            Perhaps a return to the moon would remind us of just what we can accomplish and how much more we could do with a little courage and willingness to step out of our comfort zones.  Our safety obsession seems irresistible but we cannot allow it to hinder mankind’s reach for the stars.  Otherwise, we might as well shut it all down and use the money to create ever more exciting science fiction movies.  New virtual worlds are better than no new worlds at all.

            I don’t think I’m asking too much here.  Our fathers and grandfathers sent men to the moon with technology that could barely produce adequate coffee machines, with computer programs that could hardly do more than play chess.  The leap in technology since 1972 has been unprecedented.  Don’t tell me we can’t get back to the moon at a fraction of the cost and effort required in that distant year.  What we seem to lack the most now is will and imagination.  We need to tap back into an old resource once widely available in this country: The Pioneer Spirit.  A great way to jump-start this would be a trip back to the moon. 

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