I was sitting in the dining hall at Bob Mathias Sierra Camp. (Bob Mathias was like Bruce Jenner, except younger, less blond, and pre-television). All us boys (I think the girls had a separate camp) were looking at a small TV with barely visible pictures of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin making history.
EE Times, Popular Mechanics, National Geographic and of course NASA have websites marking the anniversary. Popular Science claims 10 things that I didn’t know about the landing (actually, only 8 were new to me.) A new book, Voices from the Moon, collects interviews from all 12 men who walked on the moon.
In his book Timeline, the late physician and novelist Michael Crichton wrote that 19th century scientist would be amazed “that humankind [sic] would travel to the moon, and then lose interest.” Columnist Charles Krauthammer cites Crichton favorably in lamenting the loss of political will since the last human being left the moon [on December 14, 1972.]
The reasons to return, Krauthammer (and I) would argue, are about the human spirit, not finding more velcro or Tang®:
Why do it? It's not for practicality. We didn't go to the moon to spin off cooling suits and freeze-dried fruit. Any technological return is a bonus, not a reason. We go for the wonder and glory of it. Or, to put it less grandly, for its immense possibilities. We choose to do such things, said JFK, "not because they are easy, but because they are hard." And when you do such magnificently hard things -- send sailing a Ferdinand Magellan or a Neil Armstrong -- you open new human possibility in ways utterly unpredictable.
We are now deep into that hyper-terrestrial phase, the age of iPod and Facebook, of social networking and eco-consciousness.
But look up from your BlackBerry one night. That is the moon. On it are exactly 12 sets of human footprints -- untouched, unchanged, abandoned. For the first time in history, the moon is not just a mystery and a muse, but a nightly rebuke. A vigorous young president once summoned us to this new frontier, calling the voyage "the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked." And so we did it. We came. We saw. Then we retreated.