diamond geezer

 Saturday, December 14, 2002

Walking on the Moon

The Apollo space mission remains one of mankind's greatest ever achievements, along with the decoding of human DNA and designing milk cartons that open without splurting everywhere. The project required an enormous amount of time, an enormous amount of money and and revolutionary scientific expertise, all to get twelve men to the Moon and back. Even more impressively, the Americans managed all of this back in an age when computers were the size of wardrobes and the Ronco Buttonneer was cutting edge technology. Today your mobile phone probably contains more processing power than all of Neil Armstrong's onboard computers put together, although his Lunar Lander game was rather more realistic. The blurry black and white TV broadcasts sent back from the Moon made a huge impact on all of us alive at the time, however young we were, showing us our place in the universe and starting a global ecological awareness that still lives today. Perhaps even more importantly, the Apollo missions also brought us non-stick teflon saucepans.

I find it hard to believe, but today is exactly 30 years since the last man walked on the Moon. His name was Eugene Cernan (what is it about American names...?), and he was the twelfth and final man to walk on the lunar surface. And, in the 30 years since Apollo 17 blasted off from the Moon on 14 December 1972, not one manned space mission has been back.

Back in the fifties and sixties, science fiction portrayed rocket trips to the moon as part of our bright technological future. There would be lunar bases, settlers emigrating to the new frontier and the Moon would be our stepping-stone into space. We all thought that, by the year 2000, space travel would be commonplace and the Moon would be an everyday destination. It hasn't happened. We have managed a few space stations orbiting the Earth, the odd deep space probe and the Space Shuttle, although none of that ever caught the public imagination in the same way as Apollo. There has been no political will to return to the Moon, or maybe it's just that nobody's been willing to pour huge amounts of money into a project with no immediate profit to be made. It's a pity, because if we could send a lump of aluminium powered by a Sinclair ZX81 to the Moon thirty years ago, just think what we could do today.

I hope that another lunar mission is planned before the next thirty years is up. It would be great to watch real astronauts on the Moon again, rather than just another re-run of Star Trek. Our future is out there in space, but at the moment our future seems a very long way off. And who knows, maybe society's advanced enough since 1972 to send a woman next time.

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