The last man to walk on the moon was in December 1972. That man, Eugene Cernan, died just over a year ago. Funny we all know Neil Armstrong’s name and Buzz Aldrin is remembered by a lot too but Eugene? Yep I had to look him up. There have only been, to date, 12 men who walked on the moon. Only 5 are still alive today and they are all in their 80s. So it won’t be too long in the future potentially where we’ll no longer have anyone alive who walked on the moon. We’ve never been back. Why? Well the simple answer is that it was all proto-sabre rattling by the USA to take the high ground in the cold war after Yuri Gagarin was the first man into space for the USSR. Once it was clear the Russian’s weren’t going to continue with their manned missions it was “job done”. I was reading something by someone who worked at Nasa and he said when the USSR collapsed in the 1990s many US congressmen were actually phoning Nasa up and essentially saying “So you’re done now.” It was by them only ever seen as a political race against the USSR.
In actual fact the missions were only there for a matter of a couple of days each from the 6 missions that landed (Apollo 13 of course had to go around the moon and come back after the landing was aborted). So clearly they were never science led – only one real scientist actually landed – Harrison Schmit who landed with Eugene in Apollo 17 – he was a geologist. But he had only 3 days to explore a small patch of the moon.
We do now have an international space station which since 2000 has had 227 (as of July 2017 – from wikipedia) visitors. Here’s a sobering thought the week after international women’s day – only 38 of those have been women.
Why am I whimbling on about this? I just feel that we’ve lost something in not continuing the lunar programme. To now go back would cost billions nobody could justify but think on… if for the last 45 years lunar missions had continued we may have well had the moonbase so beloved of my 60s school boy science fiction comics and TV shows. We may well have been already building capability to get to Mars with a manned mission.
Here however is another startling question? How many people have been to the very bottom of the ocean? Three. Yes you read that right just 3 – a quarter the number who’ve walked on the moon. First mission was in 1960 by Jacques Piccard (d. 2008) and Don Walsh and in 2012 by film director James Cameron. In total both missions spent less that 3 hours at the bottom – 1960 only 20 mins and 2012 about 2 hours 34 mins. We know less about that deep spot 7 miles down than we do about the surface of the moon.
What happened to that 1960s spirit of “To boldly go where no man has gone before?” Just because we’ve done it once surely we should go back again – and again – and again? That’s how man came to populate the entire globe from our origins in Eastern Africa. That seemingly is one of the things that singled us out to be the first species on our planet (and so far in our knowledge anywhere in the universe) to build a sophisticated, technologically and culturally advanced society with a deep awareness and understanding of our environment both on this planet and beyond it.