Monday, 4 January 2010

Howdy, Neighbour!

I touched a piece of the moon yesterday and I am unashamedly giddy about it. I was at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, home of the space shuttles. There, on display and available for visitors to touch, is a square inch of rock that's been brought back from the moon.

There's something staggering about touching an object that's come from another world nearly half a million kilometers away. And something sobering about knowing what went into bringing it back. The moon rock is displayed a few meters away from a Saturn V rocket, which was the sort of rocket used for lunar missions. The moon rock is a few centimeters long and weighs a few hundred grams. The rocket is 110 meters long and weighs over 3,000 tons. That means it's about as big as a 35-storey building. It took the efforts of tens of thousands of men and women to build. And it claimed at least three lives.

Astronaut Eugene Cernan stepped off the moon's surface in 1972. He didn't know it then, but he was about to become 'the last man on the moon'. He still holds that unfortunate title, nearly forty years later.

A lot happened in those forty years. Wars were fought. Smallpox was eliminated. Our world became digital. And uncomfortably warmer. But nothing, simply nothing, came close to firing our imaginations like the grainy images of men in white spacesuits clumsily bouncing off a desolate lunar landscape. I touched a fragment of that landscape yesterday. I could not feel more pleased, or more privileged.