Space must again be a focus
by Franklin Clark, Reporter --
Jul 16, 2014 | 52 52 recommendations | email to a friend | print
“That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Neil Armstrong, Apollo 11 astronaut, July 20, 1969.

“I don’t think I’m alone when I say I’d like to see more and more planets fall under the ruthless domination of our solar system.”

Jack Handey - “Deep Thoughts”

On this day, 45 years ago, Apollo 11 launched from the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Kennedy, Fla. Four days later, Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr., would be the first two people to walk on the Moon, with Michael Collins staying behind in the command module.

My father was able to watch the footage of the Moon landing live on his 26th birthday. It’s difficult to believe it’s actually been that long.

Even some of the remote tribes that have limited contact with the outside world will occasionally ask the rare outsider if we’re still going to the Moon.

Although the computers that got us to the Moon are primitive nowadays even when compared to modern calculators, space travel is one of those few areas where it almost seems like we’ve regressed in some ways. We were going to the Moon more than 40 years ago, and now we don’t even have the tooling to make the machines that took us there.

While this is one of our greatest accomplishments not just as a country but as a species, I won’t deny that we went there primarily to beat the Soviets. On the other hand, the Apollo missions greatly increased to our body of scientific knowledge as well, and several interesting experiments were performed on the Moon.

But to only go back to the Moon isn’t ambitious enough, in my opinion. We need more missions to Mars, including manned ones, and missions to the gas giants, and eventually we should harvest asteroids for their precious ores. That sounds like a pie-in-the-sky dream, not unlike how landing on the Moon probably looked in the 1950s.

More importantly than any of those things, we need to ramp up our asteroid detection efforts to make sure we aren’t caught unaware by space rocks that could do unimaginable damage.

It’s also the 20th anniversary of the comet Shoemaker–Levy 9 hitting Jupiter.

On Feb. 15, 2013, a 14,000-ton meteor exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, with the force of about 500 kilotons of TNT, 20–30 times more energy than was released from the atomic bomb detonated at Hiroshima.

While that’s a lot of energy, there were no deaths. However, about 1,500 people were injured. That’s because it landed at a shallow angle and broke up relatively high up in the atmosphere. If it had landed at a sharper angle and made it to the ground, the city of Chelyabinsk could have been destroyed.

What’s disturbing is that no one knew this asteroid was going to hit the Earth until it appeared in the sky and on the dashboard cameras of Russian automobiles. And the worst part is, even if we knew of it, with the technology we have there was nothing we could have done to stop it. We may not be quite so lucky the next time a big rock crosses our path.

As a species, we need to do a much better job of finding these rocks and keeping them from hitting in the first place.

Franklin Clark is a reporter for the Cadiz Record and can be reached by email at
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