Perseverance

“Houston, we have a problem.” The now cliche hyperbolic understatement comes from the Apollo 13 mission to land on Earth’s moon in 1970. Part of the flight journal, dialog between astronauts Jack Swigert and Jim Lovell and Mission Control Houston can be read on Wiki:

055:55:19 Swigert: Okay, Houston…
055:55:19 Lovell: …Houston…
055:55:20 Swigert: …we’ve had a problem here.
055:55:28 Lousma: This is Houston. Say again, please.
055:55:35 Lovell: Ah, Houston, we’ve had a problem. We’ve had a Main B Bus Undervolt.

But they persevered, came up with a plan, called an audible, held on tight, and made it home to a grateful country. Last week, a seemingly ungrateful US senator from Texas, unaware, apparently, of other cliches of crisis, such as, “The Captain goes down with the ship,” and “Women and children first,” lit out for a Cancun resort hotel while his constituents back home faced freezing weather, loss of heat for their homes from frozen gas lines, and loss of electrical power for their homes from damaged equipment left exposed to extreme weather conditions, all while remaining lined up according to protocols made necessary by a limited supply of pandemic vaccine. The New York Times editorial board provided the lessons, though we might doubt if any lessons learned will be put to the test. What seems to persevere the most is political rhetoric aimed at scuttling the facts, the issues, what actually broke and why, in short, the truth. But while Texas was suffering from a statewide major “undervolt,” the third Mars rover, “Perseverance,” landed safely on Mars, close to 300 million miles away.

The irony of another space exploration achievement while the country’s infrastructure, education, medical, work, and political systems continue to spiral out of control, reminds us of the response from the classic news journalist Eric Sevareid, who, for one, was unimpressed with the promise of the first photographs promised of the dark side of the moon, many moons ago. From his short article, “The Dark Side of the Moon”:

“There is, after all, another side — a dark side — to the human spirit, too. Men have hardly begun to explore these regions; and it is going to be a very great pity if we advance upon the bright side of the moon with the dark side of ourselves, if the cargo in the first rockets to reach there consists of fear and chauvinism and suspicion. Surely we ought to have our credentials in order, our hands very clean and perhaps a prayer for forgiveness on our lips as we prepare to open the ancient vault of the shining moon.”

And we continue to advance, to persevere, to and fro, back and forth, a few steps forward, another few backward.

Salsa Party on the Moon

In the news, water discovered on Earth’s moon: Not so much water apparently though that NASA will start shaping surfboards for its astronauts; nor is discovered quite right – confirmed or proven more precise. Meantime, of course, what with someone always turning up the global warming thermostat in the house, we’ll soon be wanting to bring some of that moon water down to Earth. And where there’s water, there could be also be tomatoes. And where there’s tomatoes, there could also be salsa. Now, a salsa party on the moon – countdown! And where there’s water, there’s sound, so the previously assumed to be silent moon, if you put your ear to the crater, just might produce some good vibes after all; and what’s a salsa party without music?

Eric Sevareid, Italo Calvino, and NASA’s Watery Disappointment

We’re not in a hurry to get to the moon; there doesn’t appear to be a lot to do there – great view of Earth, of course, and the air is clean. Up close, though, the moon looks like an ancient Egyptian golf course. The moon was probably once covered with lush greens and lovely azaleas surrounding freshwater hazards, but the groundsmen disappeared long ago, around the time the gamekeepers were laid off.

Now, NASA tells us there is water on the moon, lots of it, but not enough to get the surfboard out.

Italo Calvino, in “The Distance of the Moon,” tells us of a time when the moon was much closer to the Earth, and could be reached by climbing a ladder: “…from the top of the ladder, standing erect on the last rung, you could just touch the Moon if you held your arms up.”

William S. Marshall, a staff scientist and dowser at the NASA Ames Research Center, recently contributed a woeful Op-Ed piece to the Times describing NASA’s disappointment in the public’s waned response to its recent divining-wand blast: “Almost as surprising as NASA’s announcement [of water in the moon] is the lack of attention it has received. Thirty years ago, a development like this would have been heralded as one of humanity’s greatest discoveries.”

But what was the response decades ago to NASA’s climbing the ladder to the moon? To find out, we looked up our old friend Eric Sevareid, who, in a short opinion piece titled “The Dark of the Moon” (1958), a radio piece written when NASA was created to erect a lunar ladder, said, “It is exciting talk, indeed, the talk of man’s advance toward space. But one little step in man’s advance toward man – that, we think, would be truly exciting.”

Alas, they may have found water on the moon, but here on Earth, we are still thirsty.