Sunday, December 21, 2008

Glimpses of Infinity

Moonwalker"Where do you go after you've been to the Moon?" That's the vexing question behind Moondust: In Search of the Men Who Fell to Earth. Journalist Andrew Smith is my kind of space enthusiast: one who’s less concerned with what was on the lunar module’s control panel than what was on the minds of the men who parked it on the Moon. But when he vows to track down the nine remaining humans who put boot to Luna, even he worries they’ll be uptight throttle jockeys. He’s only partly right. From the moonscape painting Alan Bean to the increasingly mystic Edgar Mitchell, Smith finds not every aging space cowboy who set boots on Luna fits the classic astronaut mold. And what a mold! NASA chose carefully the humans they threw at the Moon, favoring men with cool heads, trim torsos and limited imaginations. As a result, those few souls who‘ve seen the Earth as a whole have a hard time explaining just what that infinite view made them feel. And they’re not getting any younger - which is what makes this book a public service. For when these space visitors do shirk their mortal coil, who will be around to prove that One Small Step didn’t go down on a Hollywood soundstage? Don’t bother answering; just know that you won’t find a better encapsulation of the Apollo Mission‘s heady success and subsequent ugly death than this book. Equal parts space travelogue, celebrity memoir and character study, Moondust tells the unlikely story of the lucky few who traveled all the way to that rock in the sky, then came back to spend the rest of their days living in it shadow.

Still beats pokin’ around in low orbit, I’m told.


Steve said...

I had a boss back in '99 who was a Shuttle Commander/Pilot and he pretty much said the same thing... getting into LEO (Low-Earth-Orbit) wasn't that big of a deal once you got over the launch because the difference of being in the ISS and the Shuttle and heading toward the moon, is like driving an hour to the beach, vs. taking a cruise to Tahiti. (100 miles vs. 250,000).

IamMe said...

Not only do the Astronaunt's say LEO is no fun, the controllers say the same thing. You see any interview of the "Steely Eyed Missile Men" who sat in Mission Control in Houston from 1965 to 1972 and then continued to sit there through Skylab and ASTP in 1976 and you see a LARGE number of the skinny black tie pocket protector bunch gone by the time the first Shuttle lifted off in 1981. The reason? Nothing to do but watch those 4 remaining Apollo Command Modules go round and round and round the Earth for months on end for the Skylab program and a week for the ASTP flight.

Many of the controllers harbor ill will towards the Nixon Administration and to a lesser extent the general public for letting Apollo die. And to a degree they have a point. Since Apollo, the US Space Program has had no direction, and still doesn't today, almost 40 years since Neil Armstrong first set foot upon the Moon.

And honestly, who knows if the Constellation Moon Program will get us to back to the Moon? This isn't the first time the US has said we are "going back to the Moon" only to have the program gutted of funds and never fly. Even now, the Ares rockets that will fly men to LEO to replace the Shuttle fleet and hopefully to the Moon a few years later are basically Shuttle parts reused to save money.

Astronaunt Dave Scott made a comment in 1996 while advising the producers of the film "Apollo 13" that to produce the best film that actually as possible what it was like to fly to the Moon because it would be 150 years before we went back. Even now 40 years later, many of the men who created the technology are gone and along with them is there knowledge and we are literally reinventing the wheel to go back to the Moon. Instead of launching one rocket to send everything to the Moon, the Constellation Program will launch several rocket carrying pieces and then assembly in space to go the Moon. Hence, low budget Moon program that even the old Soviet Unit would have embraced.

Yeah, don't get me started this. It is the blind leading the blind and no one seems to care.