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July 1969,
you're probably an ex-test pilot with a Boy Scout badge for spitting in the face of death,
and on that day you find yourself at Kennedy Space Center,
wearing a spacesuit and about to board a strange machine.
The machine is called "the Saturn 5 rocket", and is about three blue whales high,
weighs about as much as thirty-five 737s,
and very shortly, a million liters of liquid oxygen are going to mix with 700,000 liters of kerosene,
and the machine is gonna go *brrrr*,
and quite possibly KILL YOU DEAD!
So you hop in with your two other mates, strap up,
and try to ignore the fact that you're about to ride the explosive equivalent of 400 tons of TNT up into the sky
on the back of seven and a half million pounds of thrust.
And sure enough, a system of valves open below you, mixing the liquid oxygen and kerosene, and are ignited.
The cabin rocks left to right with the guidance computer gimballing the five gigantic F-1 engines 300 feet below you,
desperately trying to stop you smashing into the launch tower.
You are squashed back into your seat four times your normal weight.
By 9:35 AM you're 42 miles high, riding 5% for America's federal budget into the morning sky.
By 9:44 AM, the first two stages of the rocket are jettisoned, and you're 118 miles high.
By 12:22 PM you're in orbit, going at 24,000 miles an hour –
or, if you prefer, speeding around the Earth at about 17 times faster than a bullet.
By 12:49, you get the word you'll go for trans-lunar injection.
A few minutes of engine burn later, and you're now headed out of Earth orbit.
You blow the bolts connecting the two sections of your rocket ship, separating your module from the lunar module,
spin them around and dock again.
The Earth begins to recede behind you.
By 2:45 PM, you are now riding 26 tons of food, instruments, and science at about 25,000 miles an hour.
You are the commander of Apollo 11.
And while two NASA missions have orbited the Moon already,
yours will now attempt to be the first to land and stand on that alien world.
Fun fact: peeing in zero gravity is a nightmare.
To counteract this, since all Apollo astronauts were men,
engineers developed a system whereby one would urinate into a condom attached to a hose.
The condom sizes came in "small", "medium", and "large".
Legend has it that some astronauts were choosing the large size based on pride,
and some were making a mess because it wasn't the right size.
Allegedly, NASA opted to rename the sizes
"extra-large",
"immense",
and "unbelievable".
*Genuine giggle*
Yeah! Space exploration!
Anyway, what is this big white thing you're flying towards? Where did it come from?
Well, no one knows for sure yet.
The leading theory is that about four billion years ago something about the size of Mars – a planet we've called Theia –
hit the Earth, and bits of the Earth came off, and eventually collected together into old Moonface McGee herself.
She's about 81 times lighter than the Earth, about ⅓ the diameter –
bigger than Pluto, by the way, but most things are –
and her gravity is around ⅙ ours.
It takes the Moon 27 days to orbit us properly,
but it also takes the Moon 27 days to turn once on her axis,
which means we only ever see one side of the Moon.
The reason the moon looks different to us through the month is her position relative to the Sun.
As she swings around us, she's either between us and the Sun, called "new moon",
waxes into the first quarter, then full,
wanes into third quarter, and back to new.
And moons in our solar system aren't unique at all:
Mars has 2, Neptune has 14, Saturn has 82,
but we are the only planet in our solar system with one moon, weirdly,
and she is by far the largest, relative to her planet.
No good explanation for any of that yet, but boy, are we glad she's here!
She kindly regulates the tides and stops us wobbling on our axis.
All in all, very pretty, very mysterious,
And would you look at that – you're almost there.
Well, about 33,000 miles away, but you've entered the Moon's sphere of influence.
That means the Moon has more gravitational power over you than the Earth does.
Shoes off! Best behavior, please!
You're in her house now.
Out the window and below is a barren expanse, a visual history of great violence:
craters where comets hit, some as wide as 175 kilometers in diameter.
one astronaut stays in the command module, while you and your colleague transfer to the lunar module.
And before you know it, you're separated and descending to the surface.
Ancient and dead volcanoes have covered the Moon in 23 of what our ancestors mistook for "maria" –
Latin for "seas", as we still call them today.
the Sea of Crises, the Eastern Sea,
and there, our destination –
the Sea of Tranquility.
But you're traveling too fast for some reason, and overshooting the landing spot.
Still, you've come all this way, and you'll be damned if you quit here.
6,000 feet above now, alarms go off: 1201 and 1202.
No one back on Earth is sure what that even means, but they advise you to carry on with the descent.
Beside you, your co-pilot calls out the altitude.
you're now coming down on the southwestern edge of the Sea of Tranquility,
but there are boulders the size of trucks everywhere – no sign of flat. You can't land here.
You take over manual control, desperately looking for a smooth area to set down,
the biometric sensors reading your heart rate at 156 beats per minute.
700 feet, 400 feet, fuel is dribbling away.
If you can't find a safe spot, you have to abort the entire mission.
150 feet, 75 dropping still,
then a dust cloud kicks up beneath you –
five feet,
two,
one and a half,
one,
and your co-pilot calls contact light,
and with a jolt and only 15 seconds of fuel left...
You're down.
And you say...
"Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed."
The schedule calls for the two of you to sleep,
but you're the first humans to visit the Moon, for God's sake.
During this time, your co-pilot takes Holy Communion, though does it on the quiet:
NASA is currently engaged in a lawsuit with an atheist who had objections to a previous mission orbiting the Moon,
and reading from the Bible as it did so.
Then, at 2:39 AM, you open the hatch and slowly descend the ladder.
You pull a lever, activating the camera already on the outside of the lunar module to witness what is about to come next.
You reach the bottom of the ladder, still standing on the leg now.
You observe the surface of the Moon is granular, almost like powder.
You uncover a plaque on the lunar module, saying:
"Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon. July 1969, A.D.
We came in peace for all mankind."
Tentatively, you step back with your left foot onto the first celestial body humankind has ever visited.
And having been allowed to choose those first words on a new world, you say:
"That's one small step for _a_ man, one giant leap for mankind."
Which will later be misquoted repeatedly without the indefinite article, as "One small step for man",
Which makes no sense, if you think about it, because that would mean "one small step for Humanity, one giant leap for Humanity",
but whatever – you're on the Moon.
Your colleague exits the lunar module, pausing on the ladder a few moments to become the first human ever to urinate while outside on the Moon,
then joins you on the surface.
You erect a United States flag and accept a call directly from your then-president Richard Nixon.
The two of you experiment with transport methods, including kangaroo hops,
you set up scientific equipment, you take photos, collect ground samples...
But this picnic runs on oxygen.
So, two and a half hours later after setting foot down here,
the two of you climb the ladder again, and return to the lunar module, and attempt to sleep.
You sleep – not very well, but... a little.
It's time now to go home.
You're both relying on a single ascent engine that can only be fired once, meaning one chance to leave.
Your colleague has somehow damaged the circuit breaker for the engine in the course of moving about.
You jam a felt-tip pen in there, hoping that –
h-hoping –
your third colleague will be flying overhead shortly, waiting to rendezvous if all goes well.
The ascent engine is fired, everything goes fine.
At ⅙ Earth's gravity, making it into orbit is a doddle.
your colleague catches you in orbit perfectly, and you're reunited.
A burn to leave lunar orbit, and you're on your way –
back home to praise, and awards, and another Boy Scout badge for not only spitting in the face of death,
but kicking him right in the disco stick too,
and curiously, several hours later on the television sets of the world,
people, American and non-American, will say: "we did it".
"WE did it".
As if that plaque left on the surface rings true already:
"WE came in peace for all mankind".
And during your three-day journey back to Earth,
perhaps you wonder when we'll come back to the Moon.
In four months, actually,
then five months later, but that doesn't go so well...
Nine months later, that time goes fine;
six months later,
nine months, and then the last mission eight months later.
And as much as it might surprise you to hear,
for the next half century humans will never leave Earth orbit again.
Oh, there'll be shuttles, and space stations, horrific disasters, collaboration –
but all from the tether of Earth's gravity.
For us in the future, though, things might finally be about to change.
Firstly, NASA have committed themselves to returning to the moon with humans by 2024 as of today,
and they've been busy bees, designing the Space Launch System to launch in 2021.
It could get us back to the Moon, EASY.
But now we have commercial projects taking off: SpaceX, Blue Origin, Boeing –
all of them vying to get us back on the lunar surface.
Things. Are. Occurring!
Obviously, going back to the Moon for science is attractive,
but science probably won't be enough to keep us there,
because cha-ching-ching, etc.
There are plenty of resources for mining on the Moon:
gold, platinum, yadda-yadda,
and, rather more unique, helium-3 – an isotope useful for nuclear fusion.
But the real dog's gonads to go back for is more spacing.
The moon would be a perfect base of operations for,
AH: serving as a practice ground for learning how to live in hostile places
for when we go to certain other planets soon –
which we will –
and BUH: fueling up and maintaining vehicles leaving Earth on their way beyond to other spots in the Solar System –
when we go,
which we will!
Also, we could build mass drivers to shoot objects elsewhere with no need for propellant,
establish farms, schools, administration...
Buzz Aldrin took a wee on the Moon first day, whatever...
But, a beginning. A point of departure to the rest of the Solar System.
And one day – long from now, but one day –
beyond the Solar System, too. Perhaps.
If this is what you wake up to every morning,
if this is the view from your lunar window,
how would you feel about our petty squabbles back on Earth?
No astronaut has ever returned from space and said:
"Yeah, the universe was alright...
Not as good as a nice fight though, eh?
COME 'ERE YA LITTLE-" *bleeep*
Almost all of them came back more placid, more prudent, and more inclined to see our planet as the fragile marble that it is.
And as those lunar humans would look down on our fragile condition,
we'd look up at them every night,
and it would be a constant reminder not only of the power of human endeavor,
but that we're out in the universe now.
And surely that would change all of us down here.
And if we're very lucky,
maybe even change us for the better.
Fifty years later, we're still living in the shadow of the Apollo program,
when hundreds of thousands of men and women came together,
spent a titanic amount of money, utilized an ungodly amount of brainpower
to achieve something that was, by any estimation, impossible –
and they did it.
Some days It feels like we've forgotten how to do this:
to dream crazy big – together,
to reach for something – together,
to look out beyond bickering and this "my team-your team" rubbish.
There's an infinite playground just waiting out there
for us, to explore as brothers and sisters.
Obviously, the Apollo program came directly out of competition between the US and the Soviet Union.
It's not like the US went to the Moon just 'cause they fancied a nice view.
but the solidarity inside the Apollo program
and the directed attention of the American citizenry towards space
was like nothing we've ever seen before.
Many of you watching this, and me – we weren't alive to see the Moon landings.
We didn't grow up with a single event in media that was a human project, on behalf of the entire species.
How will we feel when we see that first man or woman putting that first boot down on the red sands of Mars?
I, for one, will be crying my eyes out,
just happy I got to live long enough to see my species at the beginning of leaving its cradle
and finally learning to walk.
And then we will learn to run:
to the orbits of Venus, Titan,
Ganymede – wherever we feel like!
Because that is us. Because audacity is what we do.
Sometimes violently, sometimes misguidedly,
but sometimes, every now and then, in solidarity – together,
and for the love of reaching one mountain peak just the look to the next.
In our solar system waiting – for us! – there are seven new mountains,
with seven new sunrises and seven new sets of secrets.
And if THAT doesn't unify us – Christ, nothing will.
And it will all start with the Moon, our home away from home,
as the springboard into the multiplanetary age of the human being.
"We choose to go back to the Moon and do the other things –
not because they are easy, but because they are cool!"
To follow our evolutionary imperative, as it began with our emergence from the oceans
and our many perilous diasporas across this great blue-green spaceship.
"We've been on six dates together, Moon!
Sorry we ghosted you, we've been going through some stuff!
But we've changed, Moon – no more long distance, oh no,
let's get it together properly.
We're sliding back into DMs, baby! How 'bout it?
Let's settle down together and raise a solar civilization, eh?"
These are precarious times.
So too were they precarious half a century ago, when those first explorers set off for space.
If we can hold it together, this might be just the beginning of the beginning for our species.
Because we are currently audacity monkeys,
but we could be forever monkeys, if we wanted to.
And the moon is clearly our door...
into that forever.