A day involving news about space travel, the moon, and the number 42. That’s my kinda story.
Or, at least, that is to say, forty-two years ago today the Apollo 11 moon mission touched down in the Sea of Tranquillity on the surface of the moon, marking humankind’s first contact there and a significant milestone in the history of peopled space exploration. Yup, 42 years ago today we (as a species) made our biggest leap outwards, past where many had dreamed possible, and went for a stroll on a whole other world — albeit, just our little chunk-of-rock-come-satellite.
It’s a little sad in perspective, though. You’re probably read that in just the last few weeks the NASA shuttle program has been boxed and we are now entering that uncertain span of time that always tends to happen, all throughout the history of all human exploration, between when the public purse (NASA and various governments now, and others likely soon to taper off) paves the way to somewhere new and unknown and when the private, business-driven (VIRGIN Galactic, perhaps) pocketbook picks up the cheque to forge ahead into the known and less-risky. But then no one is quite so certain where it will all end up, either.
I had the pleasure of listening to Bill Nye speak last Friday, not only from his perspective of “the science guy” and as an advocate for science and research-for-research-sake, but also as the current executive director of The Planetary Society. Back in high school, nearly twenty-years ago, and in not so gloomy of a time for the idea of people in space, I had taken out a membership in The Planetary Society. They sent me a membership card (yes, I was a “card-carrying-member”) and a magazine for that short span of time when I paid my dues.
My daughter is entering a different kind of uncertain span of time, that span between when she suddenly stops being just an infinitely fascinated little post-baby, to when she cares absolutely and obsessively about a small handful of things. For me, like so many typical kids, those things were (or so my fragile memory recalls) space, dinosaurs, time travel, and riding my bike. My daughter is still too young to tell, but I’ve done my best to make sure that space fits in there somewhere amongst the princess obsession, her pirate knowledge, and building crafts from every piece of colorful trash she finds. Space is cool, too. We talk about planets, put glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling of her room, and I’ve taken any rare opportunity I have (urban light pollution being what it is and her bedtime still being so early) to point out constellations and other skyward sights.
But even so, 42 years is beyond the scope of my life… and very much beyond the scope of hers. And, sad as it sounds, when she is hitting that formative age in her late tweens and early teenager-hood, in eight years when the rest of the muggles number fascination will kick in — fifty-years and half a century — when people will actually stand up and celebrate the arbitrary span of time since touchdown, I really hope space isn’t just another footnote in our collective history.