20 July 2009

When do I get to go?

Posted by Jessica Ball

A proper geologist’s photo, with foot for scale. (According to NASA’s Apollo 11 Image Library, “Second photo of Buzz’s second soil-mechanics bootprint.”) I like this one almost as much as the iconic solo bootprint.

I haven’t spent much time today listening to interviews or news reports about the anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing, but I did get a chance to watch
For All Mankind (1989), which just showed on Turner Classic Movies. And even though it was a movie, and edited for dramatic effect and impact, it really floored me.

I’m too young to have experienced any of the age of the Apollo missions firsthand, but watching the videos and listening to the astronauts who were walking on another world is really humbling. As a geologist I’ve had the craving to go there myself, every once in a while; and as a human, I can understand what the astronauts were talking about when they said that mankind was meant to explore, no matter where. One thing that really struck me was one of the Apollo 17 astronauts saying that, even though the Moon was so far from Earth and home, and should have been totally alien, it felt like home, familiar.

I wonder, if I ever had the chance to visit, whether it would feel the same to me. Maybe the geology would make it feel that way – there are volcanoes on the Moon, after all. The video from the Apollo 17 mission showed the astronauts collecting rock samples – and they were having a wonderful time of it, joking and clowning just like we all do in the field. But to do that on the Moon!

It’s hard not to look at it romantically, especially since I grew up watching From the Earth to the Moon and The Right Stuff. And it’s a pity that we probably won’t go back there anytime soon, if we decide to focus on Mars. But I honestly can’t understand how people can see those photos and videos and listen to the men who’ve been there, and still say that it’s wasteful and unnecessary to want to go back. How could anyone say that when we’ve barely even taken a few steps toward exploring it? That’s an attitude I’ll never comprehend.

I’m glad that there were people who dedicated their lives to sending humans to the Moon, and that there still are. And as a geologist, I’d like to think I share a little bit of their drive to explore and discover new things – even if I never get to leave the Earth. (And there’s still a lot of Earth to see…)