Who Will Step Next On the Lunar Surface?


When Neil Armstrong took that slow first step off of the Eagle and onto the moon, there has always been a bit of controversy over what he said.  See 4:50 in the video.

“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” That’s what I, a 10-year-old boy, probably with my mouth hanging wide open as I sat astonished on the carpet of my living room at 735 7th Avenue South in Clinton, Iowa, staring at the 13-inch black-and-white screen of the family TV, heard. As did 500 million of my closest friends who were also watching, worldwide.

But the radio and TV equipment that Mr. Armstrong was using from 250,000 miles or so was a bit glitchy, and his voice-activated microphone was a bit iffy at catching small words. He thought he said: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

I’m inclined, even as an eye-witness via TV, to give him a benefit of the doubt. Now, Neil Armstrong has taken that final step that all of us must at some point, and has crossed that line that we all wonder at a bit.

NASA image. Footprint on the moon.

The first man on the moon is permanently out there somewhere. If, in heaven or hell, we are allowed or doomed to repeat some salient moment of our life, perhaps he is on an airless, dusty planet close to his home Earth, planting his foot.

The moon has long fascinated humans. We see a man in it, or some other human—in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Scout saw a woman sitting at a mirror. The very first mass medium on the planet was published in the 1840s in New York City—The Sun, the first “penny press” newspaper for the common person, reported that scientists had found a race of flying “men” on the moon.

Well, the first flying man on the moon turned out to be Neil.

The moon suffers a bit from bad PR. In astronomy, a planet is a large, round object in a more-or-less regular orbit that is big enough and has enough gravity to sweep debris from its orbit and thus dominate it’s space. As it turns out, Pluto lacked the oomph to be a planet. Poor Luna. Absent Terra, she would have it made. For most planets, if they have a moon or moons, there is a huge differential—the moons are definitely secondary objects in that area of the sky. Not so Luna. She’s not so small, compared to us—in fact her odd orbital pattern of having her day match her orbit around us suggests that Earth was once bigger and something split us before we cooled and solidified. Our moon is really more a twin planet than a regular moon usually is, and our moon seems a piece of Earth. She’s heavier than Mercury.

At least, that’s what I recall from sixth grade science. I haven’t kept up on astronomy that much, and don’t know what the latest thinking is of our twin’s origin or all of the details about her. Let scientists be scientists and writers be writers, but let writers remember that scientists establish the facts we write about.

Anyway, twin planet or “our” moon, she is there and we are here and Neil was there.

My niece posted on Facebook that, with Neil’s death, we are getting close to the point where no living human will have set foot on the moon.

In 1969, that seemed impossible. We expected a lunar colony in a generation, and then to go on and to explore the universe.

And yet, we have not met those expectations, and that’s a shame.

Of all the wacky, crazy things Newt Gingrich said when Puff Daddy the Marshmallow Man was running for Prez, the least wacky was calling for a base on the moon. I am not competent enough to judge all of the cost-benefit tradeoffs, but I can recognize that a nearby airless planet should come in handy for studying our skies, and we do have lots of good reasons for studying those skies and precious few good ones for failing to do so. But, we’ll call the base “Armstrong.” “Newt” can be the dining hall.

We miss you, Neil. We miss your kind. Your tribe of space explorers should be growing, not dying off.

NASA home page image, NASA.gov.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Who Will Step Next On the Lunar Surface?

  1. Pat

    It’s been a while since I kept up with astronomy, but I seem to recall a hypothesis that something about Mars-sized smacked into proto-Earth, knocking debris into orbit that coalesced into the Moon. Sorta like Eve from Adam? Anyway, sister planet indeed!

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