COLUMN: Moon mission a giant leap for technology

The day Armstrong made history, July 20, 1969, was one like so many others that stick in memory ...

 

Because of its rarity, it’s called a “blue moon,” but it was nothing less than awe-inspiring as the big orb arced over us last week, the skies cloudless at midnight Thursday.

Spectacular in its presence, and amazing that man has actually walked on it. And the first, Neil Armstrong, perhaps prophetically was buried last week while Earth’s satellite reached its zenith for the second time in a month, thus the “once in a blue” reference.

The day Armstrong made history, July 20, 1969, was one like so many others that stick in memory for those of us alive when monumental events occur.

I recall distinctly where I was and what I was doing on that July day 43 years ago, as I also have fixed in memory my location when John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, when the Challenger Space Shuttle exploded, and when the twin towers of the World Trade Centre came crashing down.

And while they all changed the world, Armstrong’s first step onto the moon was incredible, not so much that he did it, but how it was done.

Today most of us carry cell phones that have far more power and features than were in the Apollo 11 space capsule, or for that matter probably in the NASA space centre at the time.

In those days computers were larger than cars, required special air-conditioned rooms and were so delicate that even a particle of smoke from a cigarette could cause them to crash. Now they fit in your pocket.

Because of the relative crudeness of technology in the ’60s, the shot at the moon was little more than exactly that: point a rocket at it and, based on trajectory, hope it arrived – and hope even more that you could get the astronauts back home.

With current technology, you can mount on the windshield or dash of your car a GPS system that, aside from finding the quickest route to your destination, can also direct you to the nearest pizza parlour.

Armstrong and his lunar travel partners had to guide them little more than a modified sextant developed to aid explorers trying to discover the world, let alone space. And the grainy black and white television images sent back to Earth of the historic moment (and yes, for the skeptics among us there still is a debate over whether they were real or staged before the actual flight) took a long time to get to the Kennedy Space Centre.

Now a video of the grandkid running about the home lawn can be beamed instantly to me in the backcountry via my iPhone – though using such devices is generally frowned upon when one is supposedly there to enjoy the ‘get away from it all’ isolation and serenity.

So what is left to discover, to micro-ize and where do we go from here?

The moon, thanks to Armstrong and a few others who followed him, is ‘been there, done that’ old news.

Mars might be next, but truly what is the point of travelling to inhospitable places? And anywhere else is simply too far away given human life spans.

Then again, if anyone ever determines how to travel through time, or dramatically slow the human aging process, distant space discovery may yet resume.

After all, one of the alleged driving forces behind the Apollo 11-like exploration of this world was Ponce de Leon’s search for the fountain of youth.

Come up with the technology to create that and new worlds will be found – if only to give us room to house a population that, with death virtually eliminated, would surely overwhelm the Earth.

markrushton@abbynews.com