Saturday, December 08, 2012

Last man on the Moon: 40 years ago

Some technologies such as the communication technologies have experienced unbelievable progress which seems to be continuing.

But there are some technological challenges in which the mankind has apparently become weaker. We may argue hundreds of times that it's silly and unscientific to send the humans into the outer space. But aren't you worried that we may have grown unable – or unwilling so that it's effectively equivalent to unable – to send the people to the Moon? Isn't it obvious that such a fading potency affects more useful dreams as well?

In total, 12 Americans have walked on the Moon – and no one else. The last folks walking on the Moon went there with the Apollo 17 mission that was launched on December 7th, 1972, i.e. fourty years ago. It's a pretty long time ago, isn't it? I wasn't born yet. In twelve days, it landed back on Earth.

The Apollo 17 crew consisted of Commander Eugene Čerňan and pilots (of two different kinds) Ronald Evans and (global warming skeptic) Harrison Schmitt. Schmitt has been the last man who arrived to the Moon; Čerňan was the last man walking on the Moon in general.

As you may have noticed, I am writing Čerňan [translated as a "Blackie" of a sort] with the Czechoslovak diacritical signs. He brought the first Czechoslovak flag to the Moon. He didn't forget to bring the flag back to Earth so it's located in a Czech observatory these days. On the other hand, he did forget his camera on the Moon. ;-)

His father was originally Slovak and his mother was Czech. Interestingly enough, Vladimír Remek, the world's first non-Soviet non-American astronaut, also had a Slovak father and a Czech mother.

In a hybrid jargon, both of them were "hinnies". That's somewhat peculiar because the stereotypical couples – especially in TV News – consisted of Czech males and Slovak females so they could give rise to "mules" rather than "hinnies". But as you can see, "hinnies" are more genetically ready to become astronauts. :-)

I think it would be good if the Moon – and perhaps Mars and Mercury whose poles could actually be more life-friendly than Mars – had some base that would make those places more controllable, at least as tools to communicate with/via the planets and moons and, perhaps later, to use them for transfer flights or even to mine natural resources. Much of it is the music of a distant future but I do feel that we're getting further from such goals, not closer to them. Of course, Cernan is also annoyed by the faded prestige of NASA. Incidentally, he opened a Czech community center in Chicagoland a few weeks ago.

Golden Spike, a company in Colorado, plans to make routine flights to the Moon. You just pay a symbolic amount of $1.4 billion and a round-trip ticket is yours. I have certain doubts whether they will manage to fulfill these commitments anytime soon – and whether they will find some passengers at all even if they're successful – but I would love to be proved wrong.


  1. Perhaps NASA is looking at it from the long term historical point of view. 12 is a number with religious and astrological connotations. In 2000+ years in the future they could be seen as the "12 apostles of the Space Age" or something similar. Who knows what mumbo-jumbo is in the heads of the NASA management.

  2. In view of this animalistic talk of hinnies and mules, allow me to note that Eugene comes from Greek and combines "εὐ" (well, good) with "γενής" (born). While we get made fun of and called geekish or nerdy a lot, we are found not only on the moon but in many languages including Russian, Spanish, and Polish.

    (People named Vladimir do not need defending, they are scary and powerful.)

  3. Whole hearted agreement with you to go with my old guy nostalgia. I well remember the first moon landing. It was the first live television broadcast in my home Alaska - provided by our military to us. Then thought bases and colonies were only a few years away.Thank you for reminding me and for teaching also of the Czech heritage and connection.
    I would have preferred that my home country never had turned away from the big science. I favor much that politically is not accepted but advance of science, technology or humanity are not always linear, I accept. Humans do change political climates and politicians may prefer to follow the political winds regardless that science would lead elsewhere.
    A belated happy birthday.

  4. John F. HultquistDec 9, 2012, 9:55:00 PM

    Sent this yesterday – it vanished!

    Having been on Earth (just barely) when the Battle of Monte
    Cassino began I am old enough to remember when Sputnik (some say this began the
    Space Age) went up. The US programs had
    spectacular successes and some serious failures, one being Apollo 1, with its
    high pressure pure oxygen atmosphere. It
    is disheartening to know that we can no longer do what we paid so dearly for.

  5. John F. HultquistDec 9, 2012, 9:56:00 PM

    I think, maybe, I did not click the correct place.

  6. Apparently (I don't have the references) academic research maps from the just deceased (today) celebrated astronomy presenter of BBC's 50 year old The Sky At Night programmewere used by the Americans and Russians in their lunar space programmes.

    Lubos might be interested in the comment war going on at the BBC's site after his death:

    You see, Sir Patrick (in his later years) became very un-pc regarding immigration and "women".

    Anyway, mostly the BBC moderators are suppressing the silly comments suggesting his slightly non-pc comments in later life might be more important than a lifetimeof service to science.

  7. I was 12 when Man first landed on the moon. It never occurred to me that after three years we would give up and 40 years later we wouldn't have gone back. It is as if in 1943 there had only been 5 flights of airplanes.

    I have often wondered what it is like for people who weren't born, or were very young in 1969. The younger people can only experience the moon landing through history. We older people can tell you what a sense of awe and amazement we felt as we huddle around black and white TVs to watch what represented the crowning achievement of mankind. It was truly stunning, and it was even more so to those of us who were Americans. I'll never understand how that feeling died so quickly. I think part of was lost when the camera on Apollo 12 broke, and we did not have any pictures coming back, but that can't be the only reason. I really don't have any idea what else caused so many people to not care anymore.

    I did not think that 40 years later we would be traveling around like in Startrek, but I thought there would be commercial flights to the Moon and maybe even living quarters there. I was sure we would have landed on Mars and maybe even Pluto.

    I don't understand why we are now so preoccupied with such small and piddling things such as taxing the rich, what happened to the concept of expanding the reach of mankind?