Forty years ago today, Apollo 17 Moon walkers Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt finished their lunar excursion and blasted back off from the Moon’s surface. For them, it was the beginning of their journey home (after rendezvous in lunar orbit with the command module and its pilot Ronald Evans). For the human race, it marked the last time that a human being has visited another world — so far. This anniversary has not garnered much attention, but I think it should. Here’s why, from the introduction to the new edition of Max Goes to the Moon:
Imagine that you could send a single short message through time to anyone who has ever lived, telling them one modern fact that would give them hope for the future. I don’t think you could find anything more powerful than this: Human beings have walked on the Moon, and upon first arrival left a plaque that read “We came in peace for all mankind.”
No other single event in human history would be both so understandable — after all, everyone can see the Moon — and so amazing at the same time. For most of history, a trip to the Moon would have been considered impossible. Even once it became possible in principle, few believed that it could really be done. But not only did we do it, we did it in a way that made it belong to all of humanity, not just to the astronauts who made the trip, to the people who built the program, or to the nation that paid for it. Surely, if we are capable of that, it would seem that we are capable of anything.
From 1969 to 1972, a total of 12 human beings walked on the surface of the Moon, but no one has been back since. Some people think this makes sense, because we have plenty of problems that we need to solve here on Earth. But I believe we’ll be far better able to solve our problems if we have the inspiration that only exploration can provide. Imagine that, as in this story, we build a place where people from around the world can work together on the Moon. Every child, in every nation, will then be able to look up at the Moon in the sky and say, “We are working together up there, so surely we can work together down here.” That is why I believe it is it is time for us to go back to the Moon, and then onward to Mars, Jupiter, and beyond. In fact, I believe our future depends on it.
(For a similar but longer op-ed on this topic, see 40th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing)
Please continue reading below for a few other current topics of interest.
1. The world will NOT end next week…
I’m sure you’re familiar with the Mayan “prediction” (in quotes, because they did not actually predict it) that the world will end a week from today. Please rest assured, the world will still be here after this date passes. As I’ve posted previously (from a source that I don’t recall): Throughout history, the end of the world has been predicted countless times by thousands of people, and so far, 100% of them have been wrong. If you have questions about the “prediction” and why you needn’t worry, I suggest starting at this NASA web page.
2. … But we have other causes for concern.
Of course, there are still plenty of things that do threaten our future. Those of you who’ve been following my posts for a long time know that in my opinion, the greatest single threat to our civilization is the problem of global warming. So I’ve written another short summary article on the topic, which was published in September by the group Earth Protect. I hope you will read it by going here. This topic is especially important in light of new technologies that are allowing us to extract more oil and natural gas from the ground, which sounds great at first, until you realize the consequences in terms of global warming. I apologize if I sound alarmist, but my own scientific judgment is this: If we were to make use of all the oil and gas and coal that we are now capable of extracting, I absolutely believe that the result would be such significant climate change that our civilization would not survive it.
Also: Not to be missed is the new movie Chasing Ice, which will give you an unmatched visual understanding of what global warming means to our world. It is playing in theaters now, and is under consideration for the Oscar in the documentary category. Go see it, and bring your friends.
3. New Resources for Teachers on Scale of the Universe.
I’ve posted two new pdfs for teachers: (1) A set of activities on scale, suitable for middle school and up; (2) a sample chapter that covers scale, as background reading for teachers. You can find them here under “Scale Activities”.
In addition, we’ve created a new large classroom poster (24″x36″) that shows the scale of both space and time, based on the foldouts that appear in the front of my textbook The Cosmic Perspective. More than 2,000 teachers received the poster at this fall’s NSTA meetings. Posters will also be available to pick up in January at the meetings of the AAS and AAPT (go to the Pearson booth to get one). I’m afraid I can’t afford the time or shipping cost of sending them out individually, but if anyone is able to deliver bulk quantities to teachers, get in touch with me and perhaps we can work something out.
4. Rovers on Mars
While no human being has visited another world in 40 years, robots are going far and wide. I’m sure you’re familiar with the Curiosity rover that landed on Mars in August and is producing great science already, even though it’s main destination is still a long ways off. Keep up with the latest Curiosity findings by visiting mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/. In addition, don’t forget that the Opportunity rover is still going. It was designed to work for 3 months, but in January it will reach its 9-year anniversary of landing on Mars. You’ll find the latest on Opportunity here.
5. Personal Notes
For those who care (that’s you, mom!), a few updates on my latest projects:
- I was recently a featured author for Girl Scouts Studio; you can see the feature here.
- I’m working with astronaut Alvin Drew, T2 education consultant Patricia Tribe, and the folks at the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS — managers of US research on the International Space Station) on a cool new educational project called “Story Time From Space.” Alvin and I recently did a TV interview about it for Fox Phoenix, which you can watch here. You can also read a bit about it here.
- My school book donation program has now reached over 22,000 books donated to schools. Just this year, I’ve donated The Wizard Who Saved the World to every public elementary school in Colorado (1,000 schools), 2,300 books to schools in undeveloped nations in Asia (through the Books for Asia Foundation), and almost 1,000 books to schools in 40 developing nations reached by the United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs. Go here if you are interested in details and a more complete list.
- I have two new textbooks publishing in January: The Cosmic Perspective, 7th edition; Statistical Reasoning for Everyday Life, 4th edition.
- And if you’re looking for holiday or anytime gifts:
- The new edition of Max Goes to the Moon is now available, with a fully revised and updated set of Big Kid Boxes, along with a few other new features. It is available in both English and Spanish (Max viaja a la luna). Retail price $15. In principle you can get it from any bookstore, or order online from Barnes & Noble or Amazon.
- Also for children, please check out my other award-winning titles: Max Goes to Mars, Max Goes to Jupiter, and The Wizard Who Saved the World (also in Spanish, El mago que salvó al mundo.
- For grownups, I hope you’ll consider Beyond UFOs (my book on the search for extraterrestrial life that was selected by Miami University as the one book required for all their incoming students to read) and Math for Life, just published this year and winner of the 2012 Colorado Book Award for general nonfiction.
Thank you for reading!