Contemplation


Some reflections regarding the Apollo moon landing missions


The first stage falls away as the Apollo 11 S-II stage ignites at an altitude of around 70 km
and a downrange distance of around 95 km.
2½ Minutes after lift-off, the Saturn V stack has obtained a velocity of 7 times the speed of sound.
July 16, 1969
credit to NASA
Scanning credit to Kipp Teague



The crew members of
the Apollo 11 mission
From left to right:
Neil Armstrong (Commander)
Michael Collins (CSM pilot)
Edwin Aldrin (LM pilot)
credit to NASA
Scanning credit to Kipp Teague





Launch of Apollo 11
(SA-506)
on 16 July 1969
credit to NASA
Scanning credit to Kipp Teague





"Full Earth" photographed during lunar coast of
Apollo 17
credit to NASA
Scanning credit to Kipp Teague





LM approaches CSM for docking. Earthrise in background. Apollo 11 mission. July 21, 1969
credit to NASA
Scanning credit to Kipp Teague





Apollo 12: second moon landing. Alan Bean descends the Intrepid's ladder
credit to NASA
Scanning credit to Kipp Teague









How to appreciate the moon landing
The crew members of the Apollo 11
Neil Armstrong (Commander)
Edwin Aldrin (LM pilot)
Michael Collins (CSM pilot)
have made history. Their mission was a fulfilment of a dream which existed since long as humans are walking on Earth. It is interesting to know however, that back in 1969, it could be sensed that we had to regain our balance after this historic event. The first moon landing had undoubtedly a large impact on our view of our world and even made some of us re-evaluate our place in the Universe.
Let me illustrate this by enlarging an old controverse between a scientific and a mechanistic view on our universe on one hand and a spirital and religious view on the other hand. Discussions and reflections in those days were covering the spectrum between the two poles of views.

From a religious point of view, one could argue that some kind of divinity of a created universe was at stake here. But from another point of view, the Moon was another place beyond our world we call Earth which, on some day, might be reachable for humans, that was our ancient dream.
But one could also have doubts about our motives for exploration. After all, our endless quest for knowledge is purely driven by human nature in general. Such a quest without any reserve, without asking for somekind of allowance, could be considered as an act of disrespect for God in itself.
Did the Moon belong to the heavens, not meant to be touched by humans?
...... Or was it just a celestial object, a companion of Earth, just waiting for humans to walk on?
Do we have to consider it as an act of disrespect for God: to reach for the Sky, to reach for the Moon, to reach for Space?
...... Or is the Moon a place to be explored, another milestone in a long quest for answers about Earth, about the Universe, about a distant past and distant future, about who we are?

The impact
Apollo 11 was truly a milestone in the history of mankind. It had a profound impact on our awareness. Earth became a celestial object, floating in a sea of an endless dark space. To assert that the Earth is not the center of the Universe could be considered as an act of reason, but to experience that reality is another thing. Suddenly we became deeply aware that Earth is not the center of the Universe, we saw it with our own eyes. Our world became a part of a much larger world to be explored. With the landing on the Moon, other celestial objects became accessible for humans, space was open for exploration. It was allowed, God didn't tell us not to go. Although God seems not to interfer, some of us became nevertheless inspired, became the more impressed by Gods creation. It made us see that Earth is a beautiful blue marble in an endless dark space. Our planet Earth looks so small, so finite, so vulnerable, so isolated, so unique. It is our haven, our home, that is where we belong, we are a part of it, our very existence is intertwined with the history of our planet, .......we have to take care of it.

Hope for the future?
Apollo 11 and subsequent Apollo missions have demonstrated that space exploration can help us to change our perspectives and our perception on our world. Maybe it can help us to develop a sense of urgency to take care of each other and our planet. We might have a future of hundreds of thousand years, ahead of us, perhaps millions of years. How would we like to leave Earth behind for the generations to come? Can we give them hope for their lives, for their future? Which lessons are to be learned?

A new experience to be gained
Apart from the fact that the Apollo program appeared to be just another technological and scientific endeavour, and can even be considered as a product of the Cold War, endeavours of huge historic proportion like the Apollo 11 mission, force you up contemplations like the ones above. For the astronauts who flew to the Moon these thoughts were, and still are, an integral part of their flight experience. Each one of them, in different gradations, became impressed, ........affected, ......became moved, ....... became silent ....... And for some of them it was a religious experience indeed, it had a profound impact on them as spiritual beings. So far from Earth in such a hostile environment, the Moon felt for some like a forbidden place and then again it felt so familiair, it was like leaving life itself, it was like receiving an almost sacred opportunity, for a brief period of time, to look to Earth with godlike eyes.

Back to Earth, they had their obligations: they went back to their work, their family and their friends. But somehow they were changed. Many of them have tried to share their experience with us. But it is not easy to convey your feelings, your impressions and your message to the public when you are educated and trained in the fields of aviation, technology and science.

But artists, philosophers, authors, poets and priests can. Less focussed on having the job done, less focussed on accomplishing the mission, they would be allowed to inhale the experience, the impressions. It would be their job to open up all their senses and find a way to express their feelings, the wonder. To find a way to convey the message, enrich the human experience and help us to understand our place in the Universe.

To remain perceptive
But, it is also up to us.
Will the Moon fall prey to exploitation, leaving no room for contemplation and respect? Will we bring ourselves to the Moon or will we bring the Moon to Earth? Only few of us had the opportunity to walk on the Moon. Therefore such events are on the edge of human experience, or beyond, even today. Shall we decide that Space will always belong to the heavens? Or will we go out to explore, colonize and exploit Space?

Our history record of exploration
From a scientific point of view, space expoloration is in essence not much different from the types of exploration we are conducting on Earth. Space is just another frontier. So it is up to us to remain perceptive for the beauty, the wonder and the awe. Our history shows that exploration preceeds exploitation, and exploitation fuels exploration. So exploitation will always be a companion with our quest for knowledge. If we act accordingly, we have to keep in mind that as soon as we start to exploit it, Space will start to lose some of its sanctity. Looking back on our track record so far, can we say that we have qualified ourselves?


Sander Panhuyzen




Earth rise. July 1969
credit to NASA
Scanning credit to Kipp Teague


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Copyright 2005 by Sander Panhuyzen
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