Brenda Cooper

Musings on the Lunar Landing Anniversary

I hope that people all over the world will stop and reflect – for at least for a moment – on the 40th anniversary of the lunar landing.  It was history.  For context, I’m forty-eight this year.  I was an eight-year-old girl whose dad worked in aerospace in 1969 (for McDonnell Douglas Space Systems Corporation).  I’ll admit my memory is a bit fuzzy, but I recall watching it on a smallish black and white TV.  I think we watched it at home, and also at school.  It felt like a big deal to me, a feat of engineering and courage.  A vote of confidence in the US and in mankind — the words were about a giant leap for mankind, after all.  Good words.  I’m glad they weren’t a giant leap for the United States.

Personally, I’ve ended up in technology, and writing science fiction.  I have story out in the anthology “Footprints” from Hadley Rille Books that was released to coincide with this anniversary.  Something the eight-year-old me might have only dreamed about.

The history since then is also worth thinking about, and maybe not as negatively as we have. I’ve read a lot of talk about how we should have gotten back there by now.  We should be on Mars.  Maybe we should even be flying generation ships out past the solar system.  I share those sentiments — I FEEL we should have much more presence in space than we do.

But let’s stop and get some context.  First – we learned to fly 1903.  That’s 106 years ago.  We’ve flown all over the globe – we in fact fly all over it all day.  We’ve flown all over the solar system.  Not daily, but a lot.  We’ve explored moons.  We found strong evidence of other planets.  We’ve searched the sky for messages.  We’ve sent messages (Voyager).

Humankind should not discount our progress.  Manned spaceflight is hard – and like some of the other things we thought we’ve have in the 60’s (jet packs, flying cars, and underwater domed cities), the engineering was tougher than we though and the payoff slower.  The ROI is just tough.  We’re just now developing the technologies that might change that ROI.

  • New materials. Nanotechnology.  Composites like the beleaguered Dreamliner, which will almost certainly eventually fly.  Carbon nanostructures.  Making fuel from waste.
  • New launch capabilities:  Beanstalks.  Launch from space.  Lasers and nuclear propulsion options. None of this quite there, but all of it closer by far than in 1969.
  • New Humans:  Genetic modification to do better in space.  Further away than the other two, but also closer by far than we knew in 1969.  Sometime in the next forty years, we will be able to do this if we choose to.

So we’re getting some things to drive down the costs or increase the functionality.  There are also some benefit pressures.  Other countries getting into the game (at least pre-recession).  We won’t cede our leadership in space easily.  We may not be fighting as hard to lengthen it as I would personally like, but we haven’t yet given up much ground.  Some.

I think it’s likely the next 40 years will see much more progress than the last 40 years.  What do you think?

5 Responses so far

  1. 1. Joshua Patrao

    Very well-written article. Excellent sentiments, but I think they’re a tad optimistic. Much as I’d like to think we can accomplish all that in the next 40 years, I…don’t know. Maybe it’s just the recession talking. But definitely, a shame we haven’t been on Mars yet and back on the Moon in nearly 40 years.

  2. 2. Joyce Reynolds-Ward

    I think you’re right that the next 40 years will show more progress in space exploration than the past 40. We get impatient about wanting to see a lot of it in our lifetimes, but also remember that there were some major wars that drove the likes of aerospace from its beginnings to where it is now.

    I don’t think we want to see that particularly for space exploration. Great for stories, not so great to live through.

  3. 3. brenda

    Hi Joshua,

    Thanks for the comment. I guess part of why I’m optimistic is that while we haven’t actually made nearly the progress in space that I would have liked to see, we have made a lot of progress in understanding information and sharing information, and I think that will help. What we need now is a dollop of vision or political driver. 🙂

  4. 4. brenda

    I agree. I was afraid of the Bush regime militarizing space, although to be real, even though at heart I’m very deeply a pacifist, we also cannot allow anyone else to militarize space, either. We need to be there for defensive reasons, but I hope it’s never for offensive military reasons. A tough, gray line to walk. Maybe, in some ways, we’re not ready to be there yet. At heart, we’re exploreers, and as the cost goes down, more explorer/adventurers like Burt Rutan and Elon Musk will get out there.

  5. 5. Kim Sannes

    I attended an interview and Q/A with Freeman Dyson last week. His view on our current shuttle/ISS space program is that while we have a lot of hype, these are basically a glorified camping trips to space. In fact, he said that this was a near quote from someone who had been up there. He feels that most of the science we are seeing is coming from the robotic missions.

    I, like you Brenda, grew up with the Apollo missions. I was born in 1964, and the space program at that time shaped my life quite a bit. I have a passion for manned space programs, but it may well be that we are still in the very early learning stages. We can’t even keep someone up there for a few months without the strong possibility of having them pass out on their return. They always allow the first day into orbit as “rest”. I read this as “getting used to space sickness”, which is usually not mentioned.

    It could easily be a very long time before we are ready to send people on a year plus trek to Mars and back.