A Small Step

A Small Step

A Small Step

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
July 20 2005 9:10 AM

A Small Step

BREAKING NEWS (July 20, 2005): NASA will try to launch the Shuttle again on Tuesday, July 26. I'll have more news as it comes in.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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I was too young to remember it clearly (I remember the launch of Apollo 15 much better; my family went to Florida to see it). I only vaguely remember the other landings, too.

Somehow, that seems wrong. Anniversaries are supposed to be at least a little nostalgic, I guess, but still. There's way too much nostalgia in this one. It's just been way too long since we've gone back.

And this time there are better reasons. Well, the cold war was actually a pretty good reason. And there were other reasons too-- the lessons learned, the technology pushed, the inspiration it gave to a generation of people (me included). But in the 1960s and 1970s, the attainment of the Apollo landings didn't come with a warranty. There was no long-term commitment.

This time may be different. In 2008, NASA will launch the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which will map out the surface of the Moon at higher resolution than any spacecraft since the Apollo missions. It's a prelude for colonization, and I think that's a pretty good idea. As Robert Heinlein said, the Earth is too fragile a basket to put all our eggs in.

After that will be more probes, and by 2015 or so we'll have spaceships which can carry people back to the Moon... this time, I hope, to stay.

Anniversaries, I guess, are for being nostalgic, but it's important to leverage that nostalgia for the future. When I look at the Moon, I don't want to think "Ah, what could have been" anymore. I want to think "Let's take that next small step."