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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Fly Me to the Moon and Let Me Play Among the Stars

: Le Voyage dans La Lune

On cold and clear nights I often find myself moon gazing and sky watching. Tonight, Earth's moon is in its waxing gibbous phase, and it 93% full. It has a pull. Gravitational, yes laws of Physics do explain that. But it pulls the spirit too. Which is harder to explain.

 Who started this obsession to go to the Moon? Most likely we can trace this yearning to our most ancient DNA, countless ages ago, maybe one million years ago, maybe more, early man stared in wonder at the mysterious glowing rising orb. I am sure that the moon has cast its spell on mankind from the very beginning.  In more recent times, we can credit Jules Verne, for popularly sharing his astonishingly visionary passion for adventures, on earth, to its center, under its sea, and beyond, from earth to the moon and outer space.

As a child who grew up in the early 1960's I always had my eyes on the space.  The whole country was watching the sky. And how could we not? It all started in the 50's with Sputnik and the US/Soviet space race combusted rapidly in the culture, seeding every manner of far fetched notions, not to mention an explosion of space age science fiction that sparked everyone's imaginations, from "Madison Avenue to Main Street", and lent an air of hope. promise, heroism and inspired fantasy, if not some inspired lunacy and humor, to the whole endeavor. The US Space Program, and the Apollo missions in particular, were truly our shared and defining national narrative. A celebration of science, technology, engineering, math... ingenuity, sure, but at it's heart, we are really talking guts, grit, and glory.

1969. Apollo 11.  July 20, 1969.  The Space Race was won. "One small step for ( a) man, one giant leap for mankind" Neil Armstrong's immortal words were never heard by President John F. Kennedy, whose brave commitment to this audacious feat made the mission a reality, years after his death. Is it even possible to convey how exciting the moon landing was? How everyone, all over the world, no matter what time of day, was glued to their television sets, in stunned and thrilled rapture? No. Really, there has been nothing like it since. The trail was blazed, bright, rapid, during that moment, it reached the zenith of human endeavor and then it flared out. There have been no true encores, and nothing has compared to those first thrilling, shared moments of exploring the moon.

Geo-politically,  the moon landing was the supreme ultimate conquest, but really the race to space represents the most elemental of human quests. It's basic of our never tiring need to invent, to migrate, and to conquer. NASA is now running bold planetary exploration missions, but there's just something about men jumping merrily about on that cold white surface of the moon that can't be beat. You know what I 'm talking about? Then you know I'm right. Do you know about Google's Lunar X Prize Competition? Please say yes. And if you don't , then I will just stop right here and direct you to learn all about it. Follow the brand new space age story right here, and cheer these competitors on, because with any luck, history is in the making :
The Google Lunar XPRIZE aims to create a new “Apollo” moment for this generation and to spur continuous lunar exploration with $40 Million in incentive based prizes. In order to win this money, a private company must land safely on the surface of the Moon, travel 500 meters above, below, or on the Lunar surface, and send back two “Mooncasts” to Earth.

T.A Rector, I.P Dell'Antonio/NOAO/AURA/NSF

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