Who said achievements were meaningless?
And for those of us there, we all got a “Species First” achievement of witnessing the first time a human being set foot on an extraterrestrial object– our first steps as a species on some place not our home. Hard to believe its been 40 years since my Mom dragged me as a wee four year old into watch the moon landing live on television (our old exceedingly crappy black and white)– one of my earliest memories. I can only imagine that kids alive in the 1500s or during the great age of polar exploration could have been as captivated by tales of the derring do of the explorers. Their exploits provide the spark to fuel the ambition of a generation or more.
After Apollo 11’s moon landing, having gone to the moon and done the other thing (not because they were easy, but because they were hard…), NASA nerfed moon exploration and introduce the raid grind with the New not-so-Galactic Exploration patch that brought us Skylab and the Shuttle Missions.
Instead of continuing exploration of the old world “endgame content”….
…we were treated to the raid grind of Skylab and the Shuttle missions giving us such firsts as:
- First Latin America Get Away Special canister to fly aboard a Space Shuttle. STS 108
- First occurrence of combustion product penetration into the J-joint of redesigned solid rocket motor (RSRM). STS 78
- First plants to complete a life cycle in space – a crop of wheat grown from seed to seed. STS 81
- First landing with new synthetic tread tires. STS 50 and
- First use of drag chute during landing; deployed after nose gear touchdown for data collection only. STS 49.
With all due respect to all invovled in the Shuttle program and a nod to the many, yes, lets admit it, boring but necessary and useful achievements (cough, Hubble fix, cough), lets face it, its not even as exciting as Ice Road Truckers. Likewise with all due respect to the Shuttle crew members lost in the Challenger and Columbia disasters (and their families and loved ones)– both bona fide “where where you then” moments– don’t get me started with the attunement raid grind for the International Space Station which apparently requires no less than 3 international space agencies to participate and has a seven year reset timer.
We stand to lose the knowledge and wisdom of these first generation of extra earthly space explorers (Armstrong is now 78). For those with the inclination, I highly recommend the Discovery Channel miniseries, When We Left Earth, likely the last documentary to include first person accounts of this extraordinary period of human exploration.
Fundamentally, I think Armstrong had it right. He capped in 1969 and rather than pursue so called “endgame” content doing laps around the planet, he parked himself, remained largely out of the public eye and slowly faded into the icon of our last greatest boldest achievement. Yin to Armstrong’s Yang, Buzz Aldrin has cultivated a more public profile as a zealous advocate for human space exploration.
With the more time that passes since those halcyon days in the early 1970’s, I gain even more appreciation of the extraordinary boldness, courage and achievements of all off those involved in the moon exploration effort. Was a time when the saying “If we can land a man on the moon, we can certainly accomplish X…” was a good natured challenge for our society to match the best efforts of those in the vanguard and to achieve something truly human in scale. As I scan the phrase with my eyes, I can’t pull them off the first clause– “if we can land a man on the moon…” Frankly, I don’t know if that’s true anymore.
When I was young and naive and a life was full of possibilities, landing a man on the moon was no longer a goal, it was a fait accompli, a measure of our both our achievement and a testament to the possibilities open to us should we bend our efforts collectively toward the common good. On July 20, 1969, for a brief moment in time we were all merely human and the universe stood before us through the opened door of space exploration. Forty years hence, the audaciousness of such goals seem almost as inconceivable as they might be inachievable again in our lifetime.
Hopefully, the next expansion will rekindle the flame of exploration that is fading as Apollo receeds into the past.