Maybe in My Lifetime

Nine months before I was born, NASA launched its last Apollo mission. Eugene Cernan, Ronald E. Evans, and Dr Harrison H. Schmitt set down in the Taurus-Littrow valley aboard Apollo 17. In their three days there, Schmitt would become the world’s first lunar field geologist, and they’d collect over 110kg of samples, all the while fully aware that this was the end of the line for the Apollo programme.

Light Echo illuminating dust around V838 Monocerotis (Credit: NASA/STScI)

I may not have been around when astronauts walked on the moon, but like people the world over, humanity’s ongoing achievements in space exploration continue to inspire. Yes, we may turn to fictional alternatives like For All Mankind or The Martian to imagine human feet on extra-terrestrial soil, but there’s so much amazing real science underway I can never seem to keep up. Upcoming terrestrial and space based telescopes such as the SKA, LSST, and JWST look set to further change the way we see the universe and our place in it (here’s looking forward to more cool events like Hubble’s light echo observations), and a new generation of players like SpaceX, Blue Origin, Boeing and others are changing what we consider possible for space flight altogether.

So it was with great interest that I sat watching NASA TV on August 29, waiting to see Artemis I get underway. With the SLS sitting on the launchpad like some homage to the space shuttle era, rearing to go, I could just imagine the engineering teams debating the import of their stuck valve and whether to launch: “Who wants to take responsibility for deciding whether we’re ready to launch our first moon mission in 50 years while that big red warning light is on. Really? Nobody?” Yeah, I wouldn’t either.

Robots in space! NASA's human analogs kitted out with sensors in preparation of its voyage. Credit: NASA.
Robots in Space! NASA’s human analogs kitted out with sensors in preparation of its voyage. (Credit: NASA)

Having missed out the first time around, I’m going to be a complete sucker for this project as it goes through its flight tests. Come Saturday I’ll be connecting to the NASA stream again when Artemis hits its next launch window, and I hope you join me!

As Gene Cernan, the Apollo program’s last commander, stepped off the Lunar surface for the last time he remarked:

Bob, this is Gene, and I’m on the surface; and, as I take man’s last step from the surface, back home for some time to come – but we believe not too long into the future – I’d like to just (say) what I believe history will record. That America’s challenge of today has forged man’s destiny of tomorrow. And, as we leave the Moon at Taurus- Littrow, we leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind. “Godspeed the crew of Apollo 17.”

Ever passionate about human space exploration, from his last step on the moon in 1972 to his passing in 2017, Gene continually urged others to see to it that his weren’t the last footprints on the moon. It looks like that wish is set to come true finally, and this time I might just be around to see it.

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