Saturday, 3 January 2015

sea of serenity or columbiad

Though the first steps and thoughts uttered on the Moon are much celebrated and well-known, the final reflections of the last human to walk on the lunar surface are also profound and poetic. As he was getting ready to return to the lander 13 December, 1972—just over forty two years ago, astronaut Eugene Cernan mused:

‘...I'm on the surface; and, as I take man’s last step from the surface, back home for some time to come—but we believe not too long into the future—I’d like to just say what I believe history will record. That America’s challenge of today has forged man’s destiny of tomorrow. And, as we leave the Moon at Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind. “Godspeed the crew of Apollo XVII.”’

It always strikes me how short of period those missions spanned, in the crippling, unhappy days of the Vietnam War, and the reference-realisations that we thought we needed and had a really good reason for the exploration and the whole retroactive time-travel associated with adventures and imaginations that only seemed to have crept in one direction.
Humans first landed at the Sea of Tranquility (Mares Tranquillitatis) carried aloft by the orbiting command module called the Columbia after the Columbiad, the giant space-canon in Jules Verne’s book From the Earth to the Moon (which bears a lot of other similiarites to the actual missions’ execution), and humans left for the last time from a canyon called Taurus-Littrow in the Mares Serenitatis, the Sea of Serenity. Though never meant to be a party-crasher as the programme held its own and in many ways surpassed the achievements of the Americans—and in the first act of cooperation with the US, Soviet mission-controllers released the flight plan of its latest launch to ensure the safety of astronauts, Luna XV overlapped with Apollo XI and the first manned landing on the Moon. The Soviet module collided with the side of a mountain was it was coming down at the moment when the Apollo astronauts were first emerging from the lander for their walk-about.
Had the Soviet mission—the third attempt aimed to bring back rock samples, been a success, it might have still been overshadowed by humans presence, but the programme might have demonstrated that the same feats could be accomplished without risk to life and limb, being the first space programme reliant on advanced robotics and computers. IX having landed successfully on the Moon some three years earlier, II having rammed into the Moon a decade prior, while the first mission overshot its mark and became the first satellite to orbit the Sun and others—continuing until later summer of 1976—taking photographs and measurements, delivered roving vehicles and did succeed in returning soil samples, the scientific value—for the cost—of Luna XV would have outshone Apollo. If this pace and urgency had been sustainable, and even friendly as it later became, I wonder where we might be now. I hope too that we have the patience and the ambition to realise the vision that the last human to walk the Moon expressed.