Astronaut Gene Cernan is the subject of a documentary called The Last Man On The Moon. At one point he is interviewed at his ranch, sitting on his porch staring up at an infinite clear night sky. The camera moves from Gene to show a giant full moon, and he reminisces about having to remind himself every time he sees it that he was there. His footprints still are. Gene is one of only 12 human beings to ever walk on the moon. He was the Commander of Apollo 17, the final lunar landing mission.
That was 1972. 44 years ago. And nobody has been there since.
Apparently we were done with the moon. We still are. In the years that passed we have done some incredible things in space exploration. We’ve sent out probes that have travelled beyond our solar system (Voyager 1). We’ve somehow built and maintained a permanent flimsy astronaut tree house floating in space (International Space Station or ISS). We’ve photographed every planet in our solar system in HD, launched powerful telescopes into space that allow us to see into the past, taken soil samples from Mars and recently landed a probe onto a moving comet. All of a sudden there are lots of things going on, but none of it has the romance or adventure of a man having the craic, skipping about like a giddy child on the surface of the moon.
Back in the Apollo mission days the astronauts were proper heroes. They were mostly crazy test pilots. Competitive smart daredevils with ice running through their veins. Neil Armstrong had to manually land on the moon using only his giant steel balls and his skill, when the computer guidance system displayed its spinning wheel of doom on the display. Let Neil tell you in his own words here in this fascinating video. These were guys you could really get behind, heroes to children and adults alike. Show me someone who doesn’t think the astronauts of that era were Badasses and you’ll be showing me the human equivalent of a YouTube comments section who should be exiled from society at once.
Only recently has space exploration become exciting again. The logistics of the Rosetta comet landing were mind boggling. The craft travelled for 10 years at speeds of up to 135,000 Kilometres per hour, travelled 6.4 billion Kilometres, and successfully landed safely on a speeding comet no more than 4 Kilometres in diameter. The precision needed to complete the landing was said to be akin to getting a fly to land on a speeding bullet. Except the fly is 6.4 billion kilometres away and you programmed it on Earth to hit the bullet at a precise point where you figure the bullet will be 10 years after it was shot out of a gun in the icy cold vacuum of space.
And what happened when news of this monstrous achievement of science and humanity broke? A picture of human waxwork Kim Kardashian’s giant arse trended higher on Twitter, and one of the scientists responsible for this marvel was pilloried, forced to cry and publicly apologise because the internet didn’t approve of his shirt.
For. Fuck. Sake. And people wonder why I’m a pessimist? Well, it’s because of people. But that’s another essay…
So this is the world in which we now live. We have to try harder to make space exploration more appealing to the class of 2016. The great unwashed need big flashy projects to fire their imagination and hold their goldfish brain attention spans.
So, NASA and Elon Musk, if you’re listening, here’s 5 suggestions to get you started. You can have these for free.
- Space Tourism
While you can already buy a seat on the Soyuz spacecraft for tens of millions, we’re nearly at the point where commercial flights from companies like Virgin Atlantic, Boeing and SpaceX promise to bring you out of Earth’s atmosphere, for a fraction of the cost. Still at around $250k a seat it’s obviously only going to be for the super-rich. There are now more lunatics with billions of dollars on the planet than at any other time in history, so let’s push the boat out shall we? Here are some packages you could offer to these maniacs allowing them to do all manner of ludicrous things in space that we would enjoy seeing.
$250k – Bog standard flight for an hour or so above Earth’s atmosphere.
$750k – Bog standard flight with 1 month astronaut training. You get to go on the spinny pass out machine, the underwater ISS spacesuit claustrophobia nightmare, the free medical tests and standard astronaut haircut.
$1m – Private flight for you and your other half to do the nasty in zero gravity.
$50m – Spacewalk selfie with the Earth in the background
$75m – Space Bungee: You are tethered to the outside of the spaceship with a 1 mile length of bungee cord and are launched into the blackness of space by catapult.
$100m – 10 minute game of football with Ronaldo on the moon. He’d be well up for this. However he would not let you win.
$120m – Moon dunes rally off road race against Lewis Hamilton.
$100m – $200m “Film On The Moon Packages” – Oscar winning cinematographers and directors capture various 5 minute movies of you on the moon. Choices include Scorsese directing you and a friend acting out the “Why am I so funny” scene from Goodfellas. Choreographed fight sequence between you and Jackie Chan. Choreographed dance routine from Dirty Dancing for you and your partner (The lift thing is simple in space). A Specially designed Darth Vader spacesuit and helmet is available for any Star Wars scenes.
$200m – Arrange a Space Bungee for Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, but ensure the bungee breaks. Essentially you’re launching Kimye into space, and it’s technically murder, so the lawyers may want to dress the language up on this one. In fact this one will be off the books. Forget I said anything.
- An Actual Spaceship.
I know we have “spaceships” but they aren’t what we’re looking for. Getting into space requires massive rockets, countdowns, mission control, and the weather has to be just right. The people want a proper spaceship. The type of thing you jump into when running away from monsters, and as you hurriedly strap yourself in you shout to your friend, who’s running behind you, “get in for Christ sake!” Once your friend is in and the monster is almost upon you, you turn the key in the ignition and vroom, up and away, just in time. In the pissing rain no less. That kind of spaceship, the kind you could get into wearing your space jeans and a hat. While you’re at it throw some lasers on it too.
- Find Monsters
There’s a lot of talk about the possibility of life somewhere else in the Universe. Only guess work can allow us to imagine the amount of earth like planets in the Universe. The Drake Equation tries to predict this, but many of the values you plug into the equation are pure conjecture thus making actual answers difficult to judge. However the 2013 Kepler space mission data estimated there could be as many as 40 Billion earth like planets. The potential for intelligent life or other civilisations is staggering, and if the maths and science are correct, life elsewhere would appear to be almost inevitable.
In 1950, during a lunchtime conversation with fellow boffins about the seemingly overwhelming probability of finding life on other planets, smart arsed scientist, Enrico Fermi, simply asked the question “then where is everybody?” The Fermi Paradox was born. And that is an Internet Rabbit Hole into which I urge you do dive. If it’s so probable, and civilisations much older with technology so advanced we would simply think it magic (picture Da Vinci being shown a Playstation or an iPhone and you’re still millions of years off the difference in how such a society’s technology would appear to us) then why haven’t we ever heard from them?
The numbers say there should be life out there, so let’s go and find it. And I’m not talking about microbes or bacteria. No one gives a shit about that. That’s not sexy tv. People have very short attention spans, and we need to grab the attention of the masses. I reckon we need to find an alien monster no smaller than a cat to be assured of making it into the news cycle.
Ideally this alien life should be in some way freakish and scary. Big Teeth are and absolute must. If the monster happened to eat a couple of astronauts as it was being captured, that wouldn’t be the worst thing. You’d definitely get a viral video out of that, and really get the public salivating. But once the beast is caught it should be brought back to Earth and taught to speak. Then the fun really starts.
The added bonus here would be that all religions would be exposed as superstition, owing to the fact that in each case the creator never mentions popping over another Earth like planet in The Cygnus Constellation to invent a cat sized tooth monster. And with that, humanity bonds together, realising we are all one and the same, against whatever threat the cat tooth monster’s people will unleash on us for kidnapping what actually turned out to be their Queen!
Ok so we get rid of religious based terrorism, racism and xenophobia and replace it with the threat of an alien invasion, but come on, seeing that crazy mother ship coming into Earth’s orbit would be like watching an amazing Sci Fi movie. Plus if we all think we are going to be wiped out, and we have a time frame on it, imagine all the crazy shit you could do without giving a damn about the consequences? I for one want to be around when it all kicks off.
However the cat tooth monsters lack opposable thumbs and as such are useless at flying or, for that matter, building spaceships capable of interstellar travel.
- Get People On Mars Already
The moon is of no interest to us anymore for some reason, which only fuels conspiracy idiot’s nonsensical arguments “then why have we never gone back…” So let’s give them a fresh subject upon which to feast. At least the Moon Hoax stories provide one very important service; namely allowing you to quickly and easily decide who to ignore and cut from your life. Think of it as a friend diet supplement.
Anyway, let’s get people on Mars. We would be resurrecting the romance and daring-do of the days of the Apollo missions. Everyone would tune in. Forget the Super Bowl, imagine how much ad space during the broadcast would go for? The only thing that would be a let down is the inevitable youth speak the nerdy astronaut would try to use to show how he/she isn’t just a nerdy astronaut. “Houston WTF I’m on Mars. This is totes amazeballs for humanity. We’re taking a selfie…”
- Get Something Inside A Black Hole
More than anything else we are fascinated by black holes. On a recent search for photographs of a black hole, I was presented with a bunch of smudgey blobs, Here’s one with gas flying out of its mouth, here’s one spewing out x-rays… Enough. I may as well be looking at the remnants of last night’s ill advised donner kebab pizza. Do not buy a pizza in a kebab shop.
Get me a HD video of one, with sound. Hopefully a Black Hole makes a sort of Hans Zimmer style low ominous roar. Even better than that, tie one of those probes onto a rope and throw it into the hole, then drag it back. Have the probe take photos and videos. And don’t give us any guff about the probe being instantly crushed once it crosses the event horizon. Has anyone tried it? Nope.
Inside a Black Hole, apparently space and time are meaningless, so the laws of physics are null and void, in the void. You are both burned up by Hawking Radiation AND travel safely into the mysterious blackness at the same time. Reality is, in essence, split in two. You survive and you die. We’re in the creepy mind melting land of Quantum Physics and Entanglement here, with a little bit of Schrodinger’s Cat thrown in. (I highly recommend you read this brilliantly written article about falling into a black hole).
These vast cauldrons of seemingly firey nothingness are all over the place. Let’s figure out a way to lob in an iPhone with the camera turned on or something…
So NASA, Mr. Musk, please make space exploration exciting again. We don’t want excuses, just get it done.
You’re the scientists, I’m just an angry idiot.