Monday, December 19, 2011

It was 39 years ago today...

December 19 - On this day in 1972 the last Apollo mission to the Moon ended as the Apollo 17 command module and its three astronauts splashed down in the Pacific Ocean.

This makes me kind of sad. There were just six successful flights in the Apollo that resulted in landings on the Moon. Only 12 human beings, thus far, have walked on another world, and none have done that in 39 years.

Apollo 17 wasn't the last flight in the program, of course. In July 1975, an Apollo module rendezvoused with a Soviet Soyuz craft in orbit around the Earth. And of course, there were many flights in the US Space Shuttle program and construction of the International Space Station, which is so far still staffed despite the recent end of the shuttle program.

There is talk about going to Mars in twenty years or so - the target date seems to shift depending on the day and on who is talking. But there is also a faction of the scientific community that believes we should only explore space remotely, sending out probes but no people.

My feeling is that we need to send people out into space. Sure, it's dangerous. The two space shuttles that were lost along with their crews showed that. Sure, it's expensive. But I believe it is also essential. We are a species that needs to have somewhere to explore. We have been doing that for as long as we have existed, and we miss something important if we don't have somewhere new to go, something new to see and, perhaps most important, something new to learn.

There is also, in this time of economic chaos, the reality that a vibrant space program creates jobs. Not all of those jobs are for engineers and technicians. There are also jobs for secretaries and constructions workers and food service workers, just to name a few of the job categories that would get a boost from a ramped-up space program.

There is a whole universe of stuff out there to learn, and we will miss a lot of it if we tie ourselves to the Earth, which is what we are doing by not going any farther than orbiting our own planet. That's like only stepping out onto the front porch, like never even going all the way out to the sidewalk..

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