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17 July 2009

Science flies you to the moon

This is from the Bad Astronomy blog, but I wanted to repost it here. I know that the deluded fools that think the moon landing was a hoax still won't shut up, and claim this is yet another facet of the hoax (like the birther morons won't accept the proof we already have), but for those of us who live in the real world, this is cool. I think that Dr Plait sums this up nicely as far as Apollo 11 being a demarcation point in history that is based off a particular wonder! Here are his impressions:

This is so so so freaking cool: the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has taken pictures of the Apollo landing sites!

LRO spots Apollo 11 landing site

Holy Haleakala!

Lunar Module diagram
LM diagram from Wikipedia

That’s EXACTLY how I pictured it would look. That picture shows the lower half of the Lunar Module, the part that stayed behind on the Moon when Armstrong and Aldrin blasted back up off the surface. It was essentially dead weight, so the LM was designed to split in half, with the top half (the aptly-named Ascent Module — click on the diagram on the right for details) going back up into orbit to meet with Michael Collins in the Command Module. From there they returned to Earth.

The Descent Module is about 4 meters or so across, and the image, above taken when the Sun was low on the horizon, clearly shows the DM and its shadow cast across the lunar surface. The region where they landed was fairly smooth, so the module is the only thing large enough in the image to cast an appreciable shadow.

Wow. Look at that! Physical, tangible evidence that human beings walked on the surface of the Moon. And not just that: we did it again and again. Behold!

LRO images Apollo 14 site

That’s the Apollo 14 landing site, and you can see where the lunar surface was disturbed by the astronauts bootprints! Some of that may also be tracks from a wheelbarrow-like device called the Modularized Equipment Transporter which Alan Shepherd and Edgar Mitchell used to help them carry equipment and samples to and from the lander.

Oh man oh man oh man! And mind you, these pictures are not even the highest resolution LRO can provide; future observation will have twice this much detail!

I love this. Not because I needed proof we went, of course. But there is just something about seeing new pictures after all these years. Apollo may seem like ancient history, but those artifacts on the Moon are still sitting there, in many ways as fresh as the day they were placed there.

In all of human history, there are many dividing lines we can arbitrarily assign. Before and after the use of atomic weapons, before and after the discovery of the light bulb, before and after this war or that.

But there is one dividing line that can inspire us, fill us with wonder, make us dream of bigger goals, higher aspirations, better ways to live our lives for the future. And that is the dividing line between the time we were a race shackled to the ground, confined to a single planet… and the time a human being stepped foot on another world.

And there it is, in pictures and in fact. This is what these pictures mean. We humans spend a lot of time looking around, looking out, looking down. But sometimes, for just a brief moment, we look up. We did it once before, and it’s time to do it again.


JD Curtis said...

Werent certain "reflectors" left by the astronauts that, if a laser were pointed at them, would send the signal back to earth? This settled the matter in my mind. Geez, if I had known that the "birth certificate" issue was that upsetting to you, I might have never posted it for fear you would "pop a vein". :-)

Aaron said...

Great post! I love the way you wrap it together at the end. That moment was a historical yard stick that will reach into the future forever.

Someday, and I dearly hope it happens while I'm alive to see it, we'll meet other beings who have done the same thing on their moon(s).

Larian LeQuella said...

JD, I am actually making fun of the "birther" issue more than anything. ;)

Aaron, the main body of the Apollo 11 post is actually from Dr. Phil Plait (aka The Bad Astronomer). I stalk him because I have a mancrush on him. The restraining order won't let me do much else. (BTW, to the humour impaired, that was a joke.)

JD Curtis said...

2 points I would like to raise here that are on this topic.

1. Shouldnt the moon dust (from meteor dust, etc) been much thicker is it werean "old moon"?

2. I once read that the moon is moving about 2 inches away from the Earth per year. Wouldnt we have already hit the so-called "Roche limit" by now?

I'm not trying to pick an arguement with you or anything. I've read theories where the moon could be quite a bit younger than the Earth. Have you ever heard of any explanations for these?

Larian LeQuella said...

Even Answers in Genesis says that the moon dust argument is weak. Is what shut them up basically.

As for the Roche limit, that's something that's at about 9000km, so moving away is a good thing for the moon.

Try to keep up here, we're talking modern findings, not info from the 1950s! ;)