December 14, 2012

Moonrise: Apollo 17 Says, "So long. It's been good to know you"

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U.S. astronaut Buzz Aldrin salutes the American flag on the surface of the Moon after he and fellow astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first men to land on the Moon during the Apollo 11 space mission on July 20, 1969. -- - PhotoBlog

The moon marked out the edge of heaven.
On this, our scriptures all agreed.

The moon was fixed, it could not fall.

The moon would fill our final needs.

The songs we'd learned were of the moon,

A fitting subject, known to all,

But the songs we sang were of the Earth,

And those that lived before the Fall.

These songs of forests flowing round

The Earth's four corners warmed the frost

That killed our gardens, coming early,

To remind us all of what we'd lost.

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"Why wander yearning for the moon?"

We'd ask of stones and ancient trees.

Their silence sang back in the night,

Of lands where all free choices freeze.

"Tranquillity", they promised us,

"Is the highest peak you will attain.

Tranquillity, where your bones will rest

Forever in the airless rains."

Our numbers grew, as did our tongues,

Beside brown rivers, on ancient plains.

We made more gods, we built up walls,

We fashioned towers of dirt and rain.

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Within those walls we planted fruit

And flowers bordering roofless rooms,

Wherein we sang the centuries down,

Observing all the phases of the moon.

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In time our towers turned to steel,

And their foundations into fire.

The rooms we made were sealed as stone,

And in those rooms we rose much higher.

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The moon grew monstrous as we ascended;

In our window it grew larger than the world.

We lowered our ladder gingerly,

Stepped down, a bit of cloth unfurled.

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We named the place Tranquillity.

A fitting gesture, all agreed.

We photographed ourselves on site,

Tossed away some junk we did not need,

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And left, returning to that place

Where we'd begun beside the plains,

Boasting our footprints would endure

Forever in the airless rains.

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Sometimes at night, we still look up

And see the moonrise scrape the sky.

It is the same, yet not the same,

And we know why, yes, we know why.

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Apollo 17 Lifted off the moon and left it behind on December 14, 1972

Posted by gerardvanderleun at December 14, 2012 2:05 AM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Yes, indeed. Since that day 43 years ago, we have been able to say something about the Moon that we never could say before, that in five short words says much about humanity, our aspirations and achievements, and with the right ears sounds like a shout of triumph:

There are footprints on it.

May there be many more.

Posted by: Fletcher Christian at July 21, 2012 8:23 AM

66 years from Kitty Hawk to the moon. 43 years from the moon to no more manned flights and NASA looking for mythical climate doom. By now we should have had people LIVING on the moon, doing work like Antarctica.

Posted by: Christopher Taylor at July 21, 2012 8:53 AM

A beautiful poem, and thank you. The last stanza sort of depresses me, because it reminded me of something Jerry Pournelle said:

"Civilization is more fragile than most believe. Note that a true dark age comes not when we lose the ability to do something, but forget that we ever had that ability: as for instance no university Department of Education seems aware that in the 1930's to the end of World War II, essentially the only adult illiterates in the United States were people who had never been to school to begin with (see the Army's tests of conscripts)...Anyway, that's what we mean by a Dark Age. As with the 5th Century peasant in France who gets a yield of perhaps 3 bushels a year on land that under Roman civilization yielded 12 -- and has not only forgotten how to get such yields, but has no idea that such yields have ever been possible."

Posted by: Mike James at July 21, 2012 10:43 AM

We chose the "great society" instead of the universe.

We'll be back to the moon, and to stay. We just have to wait out the collapse of the "great society".

Posted by: B Lewis at July 21, 2012 10:43 AM

I think after WW2 we (western men) thought that others who looked like us and went through the same experiences (depression, dust bowls, sacrifice and war...etc) would have the same hopes and dreams for posterity. They were wrong.

Some wanted to build.

Some wanted to burn...

Those of us who aspire to be builders, have to wrap our arms around the stone cold fact that in order to actually preserve and progress.. we have to destroy the plans of the burners in life...

Posted by: Bill Henry at July 21, 2012 12:30 PM

I watched the first moon landing when I was a small child. That memory has stayed with me my entire life. If you had told me back in 1975 that we would not only not have a moon base by 2012, but that we wouldn't have returned at all, I'd have thought that you were on some really good drugs.

Posted by: physics geek at July 21, 2012 12:30 PM

Physics geek - Seconded. I was 10 on Tranquillity Day.

It's perhaps slightly comforting to know that Neil Armstrong will be remembered thousands of years after America is no more. Probably not very comforting for him.

Posted by: Fletcher Christian at July 21, 2012 2:43 PM

Hey, that was good. It reminded me of Milton a bit. I guess the difference between The Fall and Tranquility is a matter of Thrust and Vector and it always will be.

Posted by: Gray at July 21, 2012 9:57 PM

I sat on the couch and watched Buzz and Neil step our of their lander on the Sea of Tranquility, sitting next to my Grandmother, who actually knew the Wright brothers when she was a child. Neil Armstrong grew up less than 50 miles from where I was born.

I remember that day so clearly. I was never so proud of my country and what we thought we stood for that day. But I was only a teenager. What did I know?

Posted by: David at July 22, 2012 8:03 PM

I had the priviledge of having dinner with the last man to be on the Moon, Harrison Schmidt. That was in the 80's, and he left the Moon in 1972 when Apollo wrapped up after 6 missions.

America used to stand on the shoulders of giants, but nowadays that's considered too big of a climb.

Posted by: Don Rodrigo at July 23, 2012 8:31 AM

What must have it been like for Neil Armstrong to come back from the Moon, having passed into legend (and he must have known it, he is an intelligent man) and then watch his country piss his achievement away?

We'll never know. Like most people who have done something momentous, he doesn't wear his heart on his sleeve.

Posted by: Fletcher Christian at July 23, 2012 3:18 PM

Neil Armstrong was something of an introvert. He spoke about "The Spirit of Apollo" after he returned, and had great hopes that the achievment and moment would be a world turning event, for the better. He was disappointed, but he moved on. He taught at the University of Cincinnati for a while, got involved in another type of commercial aircraft development, which did not have much notoriety (he was an immensely skilled pilot, who flew the X-15 in the early 60's). I just missed meeting him in 2003 at a very large Air Show (the Centennial of Flight).
Buzz Aldrin had a terrible time getting over the fact he was the second man on the moon. He became an alcoholic, divorced his wife, became clinically depressed. He pulled out of it, became re-engaged with life, remarried and is now a much happier and well-adjusted person than he ever was, in his own words. he has a PhD in orbital mechanics (which is pretty hard and involves a lot of mathematics), is still pretty mentally sharp and was for a while quite engaged in commercial space flight.
They are both in their 80's now. These men are still heroes to me.

Posted by: David at July 23, 2012 4:10 PM

OK. Let me just explain some thing. We were driving our fucking moon-car on the fucking moon 40+ years ago. Moon-car on moon. We played golf on the moon. Golf. So as soon as the Chinese or the Russians can drive their moon-car around on the moon and hit a few golf balls and then bring everybody home safe & sound then they can say they achieved that a mere 40 years after we did.

Mars is really the only trump card -- but of course we have our second robot rover on the way -- we're just picking a nice spot for the base. By the way -- moon? US territory. Mars? Soon to be. Sorry fellows. Go up. Plant the flag. Get in your car and drive around a bit. Maybe play some golf. But we've got the moon and Mars. I hear Jupiter's nice. Give that a shot.

Posted by: Steve at July 30, 2012 12:50 PM

The last outfit I remember which thought that all they had to do was get someplace first, plant a flag, and claim the whole shebang was the Spanish Empire.

Their claim was disputed.

Posted by: Mike James at August 2, 2012 9:30 AM

Why bother to walk the Sea of Tranquility when tis nobler to hand out free phones to greedy indigents? A majority of Americans now agree with that sentiment. Damn them all to hell.

Posted by: stuart at December 14, 2012 9:28 AM
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