Friday, December 14, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #86 - Part 8

And Another Thing: 40th anniversary of Apollo 17

Wrapping up this week with And Another Thing, our occasional foray into things not political, usually some cool science thing or another.

This one starts with a memory: In 1962, I was in eighth grade. I can still remember how classes stopped so we could gather in one classroom and watch John Glenn take off to become the first American to orbit the Earth.

The was Mercury program, which was followed by the Gemini program and the Apollo program, capped - in a certain dramatic sense - by Apollo 11, when, on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to land on the Moon.

We sometimes forget that there were more Apollo missions after that - except of course when the movie "Apollo 13" comes on the TV again. But in fact there were six more Apollo mission after the first Moon landing, including the ill-fated number 13. But by the end of those, public interest had waned, NASA was facing budget stresses, and scientists were increasingly arguing that as much or even more could be learned by robotic missions - at less cost and less risk of life.

And certainly there have been some incredible advances and successes with so-called "unmanned" space shots. For example, we have sent a rocket to a comet to blow off a piece to look inside - and have gone back to same comet years later to see how it had changed in that time. We have landed a probe on an asteroid. We - and in all this by "we" I mean humans, not necessarily Americans - have taken a sample of an asteroid and brought it back to Earth. And of course there are the Mars rovers: Spirit, Opportunity, and now Curiosity. The judgment of those scientists has been proven correct.

But still it is worth noting, if only in passing, that Apollo 17 was the last Moon landing, the last time human beings landed on the Moon. And this past Tuesday, December 11, was the 40th anniversary of that event.


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