Saturday, August 1, 2009

Space – The Boring Frontier

By Stephen Lautens

July 17, 2009

Monday will be the 40th anniversary of the first man setting foot on the moon. I know – it surprised me too. You’d think such an important human achievement would be more memorable, but the truth is that a generation and a half later we have forgotten our space pioneers.

It seems that the public is not alone.

NASA threw out the plans to the Saturn V rocket that took Apollo 11 into space. That’s right – they tossed the whole thing in the trash and didn’t even keep a copy as part of their regular “housekeeping”.

Last week I also read that NASA also destroyed the original film of the first moon landing beamed back to Earth. The reported truth is sometime in the 1970s or 1980s they were running short of videotape and just decided to tape over it with something else – probably a Magnum P.I. episode. I guess it was easier to tape over historic video than running down to Radio Shack for some new ones.

I’ve kept my space mementoes longer than NASA it seems. My grandfather worked for a newspaper back when all press photos were sent in by a primitive fax machine. I saved all those pictures after the paper used them and pasted them in my “Space Album”, which I’ve kept all these years. I still get a thrill looking at them, maybe because they are so raw. In a world of megapixel cell phone movie cameras, it’s hard for today’s generation to imagine history being made in grainy and black and white, even if it was pioneering.

Edwin “Buzz”Aldrin, who became the second man on the moon after Neil Armstrong on July 20, 1969, has recently made it his mission to remind people of what an enormous achievement this was. A few weeks ago he told a British newspaper that “young people have lost any interest in space that isn’t in a video game or a movie house.”

True - at the time of the moon landing, Star Trek had already been cancelled and ran its last episode the month before. Hollywood’s space was a lot more interesting, with green alien slave girls, evil empires and blaster battles. Not only that, it was in colour at a time when all the images sent back from the moon were in scratchy black and white, with nary a green slave girl to be found.

In reality, space is quiet and mostly empty, and has a hard time competing with our crowded and noisy world. Even the current space shuttle mission with Julie Payette, who is joining fellow Canadian astronaut Robert Thirsk at the International Space Station, has trouble getting attention as we’ve come to look at the shuttle as more or less a space bus. It is after all the 127th space shuttle mission, and there is only one crew member on board under the age of forty.

Buzz Aldrin wants to make space travel sexy again and bring back the spirit of adventure. Not only has he teamed up with Snoop Dogg to make “Rocket Experience”, his own hip-hop single and video, he’s trying to promote our next logical step outside our world with a manned mission to Mars.

I hope he succeeds. Not just because I remember how exciting it was to watch forty years ago as a new frontier was being conquered by true pioneers, but because we need to be reminded humanity should have greater dreams than Twittering about the latest celebrity adoption, divorce or diet.

We can and should be better than that.

© Stephen Lautens, 2009