The Day We’ve Returned From
the Moon & Never Went Back
It was 40 years ago today when the Apollo 17 splashed on the Pacific Ocean, at 2:25pm, and mankind was grounded for good. There’d still be, of course, the Shuttle program, now gone, and the still going Hubble Telescope and the International Space Station.
But as Eugene Cernan, Harrison Schmitt, and Ronald Evans left the Moon, few on Earth thought that half a century would pass before we may be back.
Why trips to the Moon are not as common now as we once envisioned, is a matter for contention. But the most likely explanation may have to do with the very reason that put us there in the first place. For all the talk about the human dream of flying among the stars, what triggered the Space Age was the Cold War.
In fact, the development of rockets and the technology that made possible for us to keep a permanent crew in the Earth’s orbit has a lot to do with the race to build weapons, no matter how bitter that realization tastes for those who’d wish otherwise. That doesn’t mean that it was all a waste, either.
For a glorious little while, the space race did upstage our war mongering, and became a beauty on its own right. It inspired and boosted our faith in the future, due to, in no small measure, a handful of individuals who, genuinely, had the best interests and took at heart the aspirations of millions.
STROLLING ON THE MOON ONE DAY
It was those individuals’ selfless attitude that permeated the space program with a level of benevolence, even while it was used by the military to test ballistic missiles, and sophisticated ways to strike our enemies from above. The thing is, those enemies were also split between these two diverging prongs of the human adventure out of this planet.
The best side of this disconnection, that part about our dream to live among the stars, was expressed by Cernan, the commander of the last Apollo mission, as he took his final steps off the dusty surface of our celestial companion: ‘we shall return: with peace and hope for all mankind.’
We can neither be cynical about those words, nor discouraged by the fact that another trip that far is not within our priorities as a nation, society or civilization. But like the footprints of the other 11 members of one of the most restrict clubs in the world, of those who’ve walked on the Moon, such words won’t fade away.
Both Cernan and Schmitt, who once there sang a few bars of a tweaked version of the Ed Haley’s 1800s tune, The Fountain in the Park, couldn’t pretend they were not a bit baffled that it’s been taking this long for another stroll on the Moon. They said that much to NPR’s Nell Greenfieldboyce the other week.
WE’LL NEED A BETTER ROCKET
What seems clear to them, to those who’d wish we were closer to take off again, and for millions who feel slighted by the way things have turned out, however, is that it can never be about dollars and cents, and higher power, and bigger rockets, and billionaires. That would be like believing that we’ve only got there because we were bored about life on Earth.
Yes, we’ll need all those things, perhaps, but what will really get the conversation going, goes beyond our material and practical and pragmatic needs. We won’t get anywhere without the right measure of purpose, and spirit, and risk, and, sorry if we repeat ourselves, the ability to dream again.
Alas, there may be those who no longer think we’ve got in us such a virtuous drive to get the job done. Maybe we’re too brutalized, too jaded by disappointment and disgust, they say. And they point to how that other component of space exploration, its evil twin if you’d prefer, is now in charge of our technological advances.
As we’ve became a society of the 24/7 war, there’s constant need to feed it. Everything else is relegated to a secondary consideration. As such, there’s not much room left for sending people in risky missions, other than those designed to eliminate other people. Fortunately, though, those who think that way are not in the majority.
For almost everybody else, that spacecraft hitting the ocean 40 years ago was not the closing of a book but of a chapter of it. There are already some great stories in those first pages. If only for the sake of that marvelous trip that ended the Apollo program, and the pictures they took from the Earth and the Moon, the best may be yet to come.
* Are We There Yet?
* Infinity & Beyond
* The Long Good Friday