Tag Archives: future

A flag in the dust

Bumped: I posted this essay last July 20th on the anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the moon. I think it is worth rereading again, even as the shuttle is about to return to Earth for the last time.

Today, July 20th, is the anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon, the first time ever that a human being arrived on another planet. Americans love to celebrate this event, as it symbolizes one of the finest moments in our history, when we set out to achieve something truly great and noble and succeeded far better than we could have imagined. Not only did we get to the Moon as promised, over the next three and a half years we sent another five missions, each with increasingly sophisticated equipment, each sent to explore some increasingly alien terrain. Forty-plus years later, no one has come close to matching this achievement, a fact that emphasizes how difficult it was for the United States to accomplish it.

There is one small but very important detail about the Apollo 11 mission, however, that most Americans are unaware of. In mounting the American flag, the astronauts found the lunar surface much harder than expected. They had a great deal of trouble getting the flagpole into the ground. As Andrew Chaikin wrote in his book, A Man on the Moon, “For a moment it seemed the flag would fall over in front of a worldwide audience, but at last the men managed to steady it.” Then Armstrong took what has become one of the world’s iconic images, that of Buzz Aldrin standing on the lunar surface saluting the flag of the United States of America.

Aldrin saluting the flag

What people don’t know, however, is that when Armstrong and Aldrin blasted off from the lunar surface, the blast wave from the Lunar Module’s rocket knocked the flag over. As Chaikin also wrote, “Outside, a spray of gold foil and debris from the descent stage flew away in all directions. The flag toppled to the dust.”

Thus, for the last four decades this American flag, shown so proudly unfurled on the surface of the Moon, has actually been lying unceremoniously on the ground, in the lunar dust.

It might actually be possible to see this, though the photos at this time remain unclear and quite blurry.
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The Space War, in a nutshell

Bumped, with update below

This Christian Science Monitor article gives a nice summary of the present state of war between the President, the House, and the Senate over NASA’s future.

All in all, things do not look good. With so much disagreement, whatever Congress and the President eventually agree to is going to be a mess, accomplishing little while spending gobs of money that the federal government simply no longer has. The result will almost certainly be a failed NASA program, an inability of the United States government to get astronauts into orbit, and an enormous waste of resources.

The one shining light in all this is that we still have a unrelenting need to get into space, not merely to supply the International Space Station but to also compete with other nations. It is my belief that this need — and the potential profits to be made from it — is going to compel private companies to build their own rockets and capsules for getting humans and cargo into space. And I think they will do it whether or not the federal government can get its act together.

Thus, though the U.S. might find itself a bystander in the space race for the next decade or so, in the end we will have a vibrant, competing aerospace industry, capable of dominating the exploration of the solar system for generations to come.

So buck up, space cadets. The near term future might be grim, but the long term possibilities remain endless.

Update: This announcement today from Boeing and Space Adventures illustrates my above point perfectly. For decades Boeing has been a lazy company, living off the government dole while doing little to capture market share in the competitive market. Now that the dole of government is possibly going away, however, the company at last appears to be coming alive. Instead of waiting for a deal with NASA, Boeing has been going ahead with its CST-100 manned capsule, figuring it can make money anyway by selling this product to both private and government customers.