One small step for man

Fifty years ago this month, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first two human beings on the moon. Here’s everything you need to know.

Why did we go to the moon?
On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy told a joint session of Congress, “I believe this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.” Kennedy framed the goal as part of a “battle that is now going on around the world between freedom and tyranny.” In the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, the space race had become a proxy for which country’s economic system was better — capitalism or communism. In all, Project Apollo would cost $25 billion (about $174 billion in today’s dollars), employ 400,000 people at its peak, and involve the efforts of 20,000 firms and universities. “Apollo was the biggest nonmilitary effort in the history of human civilization,” said journalist Charles Fishman, author of a book on the program.

How did the project start?
When NASA administrator James E. Webb first asked Kennedy shortly after his inauguration in 1961 for enough money to pursue a moon landing, Kennedy told him no. But two events apparently changed Kennedy’s mind. On April 12, 1961, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space — and also the first to orbit the planet. By comparison, American Alan Shepard’s flight on May 5 was brief and suborbital. Five days after Gagarin’s flight came the botched invasion of Cuba known as the Bay of Pigs — a personal humiliation for JFK that raised fears that communism was winning both the space race and the Cold War. “I’m sure it [the Bay of Pigs] had an impact,” said Jerome …read more

Source:: The Week – Science


The sublime Romanticism of the moon landing

The first lunar landing was many things — a D-Day-like feat of planning and logistics, a testament to the power of man’s will, an ostensible propaganda coup for NATO. It was also, I think, one of the most misunderstood events in the history of the world.

In practical terms Apollo 11 was meaningless. To say that it represents the beginning of what will one day be the expansion of humanity’s horizons into outer space seems to me not only unlikely but inhuman. “Human being,” Heidegger said, “consists in dwelling and, indeed, dwelling in the sense of the stay of mortals on the earth. But ‘on the earth’ already means ‘under the sky.’” This earth is where the drama of human life will be played out.

Still less do I think that the our lunar adventure belongs to the achievements of modern science. Certainly it was a voyage undertaken for no meaningful scientific purpose. (This was more widely acknowledged in the years leading up to the mission than it is today.) Practically nothing of value was obtained from putting a man on the moon that could not have been just as easily acquired by a robot.

The significance of Apollo also has nothing to do with the speculative images of “space” with fake color embellishments that we put today in front of children who do not know the names of trees and flowers. Nothing could be less awful, in the old-fashioned sense of the word, than today’s space program.

I would like to suggest that the moon landing was above all a triumph of our aesthetic instincts. What Goethe began at Weimar in 1789 ended on August 15, 1969. Apollo 11 was the culmination of the Romantic cult of the sublime prefigured in the speculations of Burke and Kant, an artistic …read more

Source:: The Week – Science


Adrift in a melting Arctic

This article first appeared in The Washington Post. Used with permission.

Utqiagvik, Alaska — The scientists walk across a frozen Arctic Ocean, dark specks in a sea of white. Pale clouds loom low over the bundled figures. The wind sends ice crystals skidding and swirling around them, erasing their footprints.

Behind a large ice ridge, the group shelters from the subzero cold and 25 mph gusts to set up their experiment. They are learning to map an area’s topography by shooting lasers across the ice and snow. But even their machines seem disoriented by the whiteout conditions: The lasers bounce off whirling snowflakes before striking their targets.

It’s yet another problem they must solve before the fall, when these scientists and several hundred others will launch the largest Arctic research expedition in history: a 12-month, $134 million, 17-nation effort to document climate change in the fastest-warming part of the globe.

Home base will be a massive German icebreaker, though the ship will spend only a few weeks under its own power. After reaching a remote part of the Siberian Arctic, the crew will cut the engine and wait for water to freeze around the vessel, entrapping it.

Then the ship — and everyone on it — will be adrift, at the mercy of the ice.

What the scientists discover during their year in the frozen north will help them forecast the future of the entire planet. As Arctic ice vanishes, many scientists expect the steady stream of air that pushes weather across the Northern Hemisphere to wobble, producing periods of punishing cold, brutal heat waves and disastrous floods.

That’s already happening. The polar vortex that gripped the Midwest this winter, the fires in California and lingering hurricanes such as Sandy and Florence are all thought to be domino effects of this instability. Unless humans …read more

Source:: The Week – Science