It happened today - July 20, 2015
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RMINSD7MmT4 Obviously July 20 is the anniversary of Neil Armstrong stepping onto the surface of the moon. I know. I was there.
No, no, I don’t mean I was on the moon. I was watching on TV. We were at the cottage and our cottage didn’t have electricity so we went to a neighbour’s to watch it on a fuzzy black and white TV (it didn’t matter since the images were fuzzy and black and white anyway) and then I went outside to look at the moon and go “Ooooh” and try to feel that something important had happened.
As I recall, I failed. A thrill conspicuously refused to run up my spine. I guess I was a precocious kid because honestly, almost half a century on, it just hasn’t mattered much.
True, it is a useful marker of one’s generation. I find you can place people in cohorts by the first public event they remember. For those older than me it’s JFK’s assassination. For those younger, well, they’re such whippersnappers the conversation soon peters out. It might be Nixon’s resignation or New Coke or something. But I digress.
Six years to the day after Armstrong stepped onto the moon, Viking I landed on Mars. I’ve always considered it a bit of an odd name for a space exploration program. I mean, the Vikings were hardy and all. They reached Iceland, Greenland and even their North American “Vinland” in open boats carrying a few dozen hairy unwashed men. But they were bad news just about anywhere they landed; the English language may be endlessly inventive and capable of generating an unlimited supply of new sentences but I doubt anyone ever said “Oh good, here come the Vikings.” But back to the moon.
Or rather, not. After a few more missions, in 1972 humans visited the moon for the last time. The 11th and last man to walk on the moon was Eugene Cernan; what a distinction. Though mind you he apparently holds the unofficial land speed record for a moon buggy, a blistering 11.2 mph. The thing is, there was nothing there.
No aliens, no valuable minerals, no great scientific secrets. It wasn’t a giant leap for mankind. For my money, the moon was actually better before we’d been there and I find it more than a little depressing that the brightest object in the night sky when Luna is not visible is now the man-made space station. What was wrong with stars and Venus, I ask?
I admire the courage and determination of those who went to the moon, including Armstrong’s incredibly cool and collected piloting of the lander across various craters to a safe site with fuel running out. I like the fact that we now make espresso in space just because we can. And when I hear that space travel is too risky I’m tempted to volunteer to go to Mars. Except apparently the main issue on those trips is being confined, throughout the voyage and for the rest of your life, with a small group in which abrasive personalities can prove lethal. Like mine. On the plus side, if you go to Mars “the rest of your life” isn’t likely to drag on very long. Though it might seem like it because there’s nothing to do.
No Klingons. No canals. No evil emperor Zurg. Just rocks, dust and meteorites. How long a conversation can you have with a meteorite?
If space is the final frontier, we’re about done. Science fiction was better when we hadn’t been there; if you doubt me, tune in to the classic 1950s radio series X Minus 1, close your eyes, and dream. Ideally after gazing at the Milky Way at a cottage without TV.