Look Up: Lunar lamentations

Submitted by Carbondale Times on

Geoff Ritter
Carbondale Times

A new fright fest showing in movie theaters, “Apollo 18,” shows what it says is the real reason Americans never returned to the Moon. This writer has yet to see the film, which opened last week, but the trailers tell the story: Astronauts land on the Moon, they find something else there, and it proceeds to terrorize their bodies. Shaky cameras capture the action.

Of course, there was no Apollo 18 mission. NASA, which landed Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the Moon in 1969 with Apollo 11, originally had planned 20 Apollo missions, but funding — and perhaps the first onset of Moon landing fatigue after Armstrong’s landing vanquished the Soviets — led to the cancellation of the last three missions. Had Apollo 18 flown, it would have headed for the crater Copernicus, one of the Moon’s most recognizable features.

According to reviews, the film is quite good. Sadly, however, it may be indicative of how we now see the Moon. In 1969, after Apollo 11 landed, it appeared a new age of exploration had dawned. Instead, manned flights to the Moon puttered out and eventually stopped altogether. Now, more than a generation has passed since a human walked on the Moon. In popular consciousness, our lunar friend has been remystified. Though we’ve seen it before, it is as alien as ever. A few decades from now, it might return to being made of cheese.

COLOR, PLEASE: Close your eyes and envision the surface of the Moon. Is it grainy? Black and white? Odds are it probably looks something like that noisy footage taken by the Apollo astronauts. That’s a shame, because while the rest of human technology has bolted forward over the past 40 years, our views of the Moon have not. Would it make a difference in popular imagination if we had a high-definition video of the Moon’s craggy surface? Would it seem more real in this day and age?

MODERN MISSIONS: At the same time, not all hope is lost. NASA will begin a return to the Moon this week when it launches two lunar probes aimed at learning more about our neighbor’s gravity. Grail-A and Grail-B, as they have been dubbed, are about the size of twin office desks and are expected to arrive at the Moon later this year.

MOON VIEWS: The Moon reached first quarter Sept. 4, and it will be full next Monday, Sept. 13. This week, our lunar friend rises late in the afternoon, and it should be well into climbing the eastern sky by the time our Sun goes down. Incidentally, the Sun now sets earlier each evening as it heads closer to the autumnal equinox later this month.