by guest blogger Ken
July is always the time of year when people start getting all sentimental about the phenomenal achievement of the Apollo 11 Moon landing. I’m working with NSS of North Texas to put together a program for Saturday the 22nd at Frontiers of Flight Museum at Love Field in Dallas. Some folks at NSS Leaders level are advocating that we adopt “Space Exploration Day” as a holiday. I personally prefer Moon Day, because that’s really what’s it’s all about – our first human visit (must the distinction be made?) to the Moon.
Over on the other side of the metroplex in Fort Worth the Museum of Science & History’s Noble Planetarium hosted a Moon Party last Saturday night (the 8th) in conjunction with the Fort Worth Astronomical Society. There was a 20-minute show on our visits to the Moon, followed-by a short Q&A, and then out to the parking lot to view the waxing gibbous Moon through some really big telescopes.
The questions were interesting, but the answers were a bit disturbing, displaying a lack of Lunar knowledge that bordered on the dangerous, to be honest. The case in point: Jack Schmitt’s orange soil. One of the audience asked what the orange soil was. The answer was that it was probably rust, possibly as a result of water from a comet impact interacting with some element in the regolith near the impact.
At this point I’m stuffing my fist into my mouth to keep myself quiet. By then there was nothing that could be said that wouldn’t illegitimize and embarrass the presenters in front of their audience. Now to be fair, the presenter was a terrestrial geologist that had been brought in for special duty (since probably no one else around has any Moon knowledge), but doesn’t normally do the Lunar beat. When I was talking with the presenters afterwards I quietly informed her that the orange glass was most likely the result of a fire fountain (“oh, that makes sense”), and the color seems to be a function of the titanium content.
My objective for being there was to start a dialogue about NSS‘s International Space Development Conference over the Memorial Day weekend in 2007. Our chapter is trying to get all the local space-related insitutions (even libraries!) to do some kind of space program over that same weekend, so that D/FW becomes for one brief shining moment a space metroplex. As an example, I’ve heard rumors that the Science Place at Fair Park is going to be hosting the MarsQuest exhibit over that timeframe.
One of our day trips during the conference is going to be to FW, so we might as well work in a visit to the Noble Planetarium. I know they are good people there, as one of the presenters is one of the local JPL Solar System Ambassadors and they have a solid website. SSAs tend to be more knowledgeable about deeper out into the Solar system. Nearer in, Mars is the ‘sexy’ object of study, thus leaving a gaping hole in our ability to convey useful Moon information to the public.
Which brings to mind something that’s been in the back of my mind for a while (especially since I’m trying to figure out what to do with the Lunar Library):
A Lunar Academy.
(…waits for laughter and guffaws to die down…)
Okay, it sounds a bit silly. But what I have in mind is in essence a summer program or semester-long program that provides a comprehensive background in things Lunar. It wouldn’t be just about things like mineralogy or astronomy from the Moon. It would also cover vacuum engineering, cislunar transport logistics, base siting criteria, and so on. Moreso a poly-technical program, but also with business, systems management, liberal arts, and more.
It would be modeled a bit after the International Space University and the NASA Academy. Students would not necessarily be experts in any one particular area (except for the individual project), but would know more about most aspects of things Lunar than pretty much anyone else around. Keeping it to the length of a semester means it could be treated like a semester abroad. Institutionalizing it means that you can do things like run teacher workshops and professional seminars to help spread the knowledge around.
People are curious about the Moon, but by and large it’s luna incognito to folks both inside and outside the space field. How did we come to such a gaping hole in our capabilties? And what are we going to do about it?