Over the weekend I was away teaching in Savannah, so on Saturday night I went to the local cinema to see the new moon landing film First Man. Last night, I took my wife to see it back here in Florida. While I am not one to do movie reviews, suffice to say that it was a good movie, supposedly pretty close to historically accurate, with good writing, directing and cinematography. I liked it.
The story follows Neil Armstrong from an X-15 flight in 1961 to his return to earth as the first man to walk on the moon in July of 1969. Over this time, NASA went through the Mercury, Gemini and finally Apollo programs that eventually got us to the moon. While Mercury is not mentioned, Gemini and Apollo are central to the film.
I watched John Glenn orbit the earth three times while in the Second Grade. I was thrilled with the stories of the Gemini missions, docking with the Agena rocket, walking in space, and all the other cool stuff. I remember when Ed White, Gus Grissom and Roger Chaffee burned to death in their Apollo I capsule on the pad during a test. And I stayed up late one night to watch Armstrong take one small step.
This movie told the story of my years in grade school. The Apollo I deaths made quite an impression on me, partially due to the protests, arguments and questions surrounding the space program. In the movie, archival news footage showed what I saw as a kid – was it really worth it? Was the money and lives that were expended to get to the moon really worth it?
Yes, it was. Which then begs the question – is going to Mars, back to the moon, or wherever else going to be worth it? Again, yes.
While I won’t detail the scientific advances made by the space program over the past fifty-plus years, this movie made me think about what is going to happen as we pursue science and exploration in space in the next fifty to one hundred years – and beyond. So what is going to happen?
- The world is going to have to get away from fossil fuels and will move toward electric technologies. Also going off the planet will require electricity in the form of fuel cells, batteries and solar electric conversion. These advances driven by space exploration will bleed back to Earth, helping to develop these technologies and get us away from dinosaur juice.
- One of the biggest problems with interplanetary space travel is radiation. The earth shields us from harmful rays from the sun by an electromagnetic field that extends out past the orbit of the moon – going to the moon is easy, going farther out is troublesome. Going to Mars means that we need to develop technologies that will shield humans from these harmful rays. These technologies could also supplement shielding on earth to help grow food, combat atmospheric change, and who knows what else.
- Interplanetary space travel will have to be an international project. That means that we will need to learn how to work together to advance science and exploration. It’s a good idea.
- An increase in the distance and complexity of space travel will require a whole lot of smart people, Science, technology, math, chemistry, physics, human factors, medicine and other fields of endeavor are important to space travel, and we as a society will need develop the smart minds to make all this happen. Since these minds are required to make the advances we need to solve these problems, they will have to happen.
So space travel is important to the human race and to the earth. While we may never know the specific and individual advances that bleed back to us on the home world, know that meeting the challenges of space travel will help us all.
At least I hope so. And after seeing First Man, I hope that Ed White and Neil Armstrong would have felt the same way.