You, as a child of six or seven, dressed in your jammies and filled with nothing but wonder and awe, huddled close to that
tiny black and white screen…
Those flickering, grainy images, those garbled voices, that seemingly random satellite “beep” that heralded in the fact that what you were seeing and hearing was really light years away from your ability to comprehend it all…
It was 1969 and the world as we all knew it back then had evolved enough to allow for one human being to step foot on extraterrestrial soil,
Moon dust to be exact.
You and I, the kids of yesteryear who were alive back then, remember well this moment in time.
Like us all, actress Sharon Tate and her husband Film Director/Producer Roman Polanski spent that evening with her family watching the moon landing at 10050 Cielo Drive in Los Angeles, a mere 19 days before she was to be brutally murdered by Charles Manson’s Family and less than a month before Woodstock would be known for more than just a mere upstate New York farming community.
When Neil Armstrong finally touched pay-dirt, even Walter Cronkite was made practically speechless, uttering only “Whew!… Boy!”. This, from a guy who never lost his voice for any momentous occasion.
Yes, those were heady days and the Moon landings were unforgettable.
My generation, the kids of that era, grew up glued to the TV and listened over and over to those vinyl cut-out records that were attached to every edition of the National Geographic magazine which covered the landings.
We grew up knowing that the impossible was now possible, never giving it a thought as to why we were heading to the Moon in the first place beyond the fact that it was simply there to explore…
It’s been nearly 41 years since those heady days and now our grown-up generation is getting geared for another grand exploration, but this time, much further and more dangerous than we ever believed was realistic…
The Red Planet.
The only planet closest to us, experts say, that holds any promise for not only exploration but future civilization, in one form or another.
And as the Martian probes march ever deeper into its’ terrain, we view crystal clear images of another world on which scientists hope to some day implant a human tread mark, as we so deftly did way back when.
Only this time, beyond the wonder, the awe and that pixie lunar-dust, we, the children of the Moon Age, are now experiencing the exploration of the Martian Age as fully-grown, tax-paying adults, who have uneasily witnessed over the years the price of lives lost and budgets blown apart in such aeronautical disasters as Challenger and Columbia. And now, when we sit back and witness man’s next pioneering feat, we ask ourselves the questions that maybe should have been asked way back when…
Why are we going?
What will be the cost?
And will the cost – materiel and human - outweigh Man’s urge to explore?
This last month brought even more Martian pictures to our airwaves, in the form of an optical illusion, having scientists think for a moment that what they were Photo: NASA
viewing was tree-lined hills on a Martian landscape. What was seen as trees was actually sand and debris erosion caused by landslides as ice melts in Mars’ spring, this scene caught by HiRISE - the most powerful camera ever sent to another planet - less than 240 miles from the planet’s north pole, of a hillside now covered in a wintry CO2 frost.
Scientists from many countries are deep into research in all facets of engineering which will concern such an astronomical under-taking. And yet beyond the glamorous photos and all the hype, we still really have no clear insight as to exactly how we are supposed to get there, be productive and get back alive…and the tax dollars of many nations are backing this “attempt” to which no concrete answers to such questions are yet available.
But let’s pretend that by some miracle, as the years roll by, we do find answers to all those “what ifs” and we as a species successfully undertake such a mission, what then?
If we lay our Earthling flag on this planet and claim it for our own, what are our intentions? Will this be a horticultural/resource mining planet, to provide for us what we lack here on Earth? Or will Earthlings eventually inhabit this red globe, to alleviate the over-population here on our blue marble?
And if it’s the latter, who do we pick to be our newest Martian neighbours? The mailman down the street, your corner grocer, the 3rd world immigrant or even YOU?
One wonders at the horror of such decision-making, well beyond the everyday horrors of astronaut lives lost and materiel spent.
Maybe evolution and human knowledge is slow-moving for a reason because Burb’s brain just doesn’t want to come to grips with the possibility of such future aeronautical disasters and the need for such colossal decision-making, when a peaceful, all-knowing existence – and a future grave site - is already here for her on Earth.
Maybe space exploration is better served up to six and seven year olds filled with that pixie-dust wonder and awe and let those of us who have shed the dust for clearer sight be content with what is known than what is not, like being buried in ground a wee bit less red.
Food for thought as you gaze upon those “trees” that aren’t really there, there on Mars…