Monday, 20 July 2009
We were there
I didn’t realise until tonight that this was the 40th anniversary of the Moon landing,* which risks being remembered in the same way we remember other anniversaries like the Woodstock festival, or the “malaise” speech, or even the Berlin Wall coming down.
This event holds an altogether calibre than any of those things, or indeed anything else in history. This was the first time that humans – or any species on Earth, or anywhere else that we know of – travelled through space to land on an alien world. That world may be barren and uninteresting, but that only makes the footprints we left there eternal, a reminder to anyone coming by in a million or billion years from now, “We lived here, and we made it this far. That was the kind of people we were.”
Sorry if this sounds melodramatic, but I’m serious – there was never anything like it, and may never be again. That deserves a moment of remembrance.
I hope that we can pull together enough energy to reach further -- to go to Mars, cast CFCs or some other greenhouse gas into its atmosphere to warm it, and introduce life, if there is none there already. I would love to not see our species keep all its genetic eggs in one planetary basket. Or, those few trips to the Moon might be all there was.
For some reason, even before I remembered the date, The Girl asked me about this very thing:
“Will you and I go into space someday, Papa?”
Oh, I wish, I said, but it takes a lot of work to get someone into space, and we’ve only been able to do it a few times.
Well, I said, it’s quite far to go, and it’s straight up. You know how tired you get even after climbing all the steps. It’s much farther up than that, and there are no steps.
“If I could go, I would want to take a candle, because it’s so dark.”
It is dark, but there are stars, I said, deciding not to go into the issue of air in space.
“I’d like to meet some aliens!”
So would I, I said. But even if we can’t meet them, maybe someday we’ll talk to them.”
“How can we do that?” she asked.
Well, I said, the same way we talk to people on a mobile phone – we can send signals.
“But we don’t even know their house number!”
True, I said – we'll have to call different stars, and see if there's anyone home.
“How will they even know what we are saying?”
Good question, I said. They probably don’t speak English – but two plus two is four everywhere, and everything in the universe is made of the same stuff we are. So we have something in common.
“Do you think someone is listening?” she asked.
I suspect someone is, I said. Maybe someday we’ll hear from them. I hope so.
Moon rise over Australia. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.
*I started to write "moon walk," but ... um ... no.