Monday Morning Insight: “We Choose to Go to the Moon”

(Another in the continuing series of quotes to start the week.)


On this date in 1962, President John F. Kennedy delivered what has become known as the “Moon speech” at Rice University. Perhaps the most famous passage of the speech is:

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win….

To the Moon

(Image: “To the Moon,” by Alex, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)


It really is a marvelous speech — I say that as a speechwriter as well as someone who has always been inspired by the thought of going to the moon — and you can read it in its entirety at this NASA page.

In particular, I like the fact that Kennedy clearly understood that the Moon could be the first destination, the first waypoint, the first step in the larger endeavor of exploring space and establishing a presence there. Consider this part, that comes a few paragraphs before that famous passage:

… man, in his quest for knowledge and progress, is determined and cannot be deterred. The exploration of space will go ahead, whether we join in it or not, and it is one of the great adventures of all time, and no nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in the race for space.

Those who came before us made certain that this country rode the first waves of the industrial revolutions, the first waves of modern invention, and the first wave of nuclear power, and this generation does not intend to founder in the backwash of the coming age of space. We mean to be a part of it — we mean to lead it. For the eyes of the world now look into space, to the moon and to the planets beyond, and we have vowed that we shall not see it governed by a hostile flag of conquest, but by a banner of freedom and peace.

Kennedy, of course, was talking about his generation: the “greatest generation,” as Tom Brokaw called it, the generation that volunteered for, fought, and won World War II and then came home and built this nation into an economic juggernaut. The question this raises for me is whether our current generation is prepared to carry on in that tradition — whether we are “determined and cannot be deterred,” whether we have such grand dreams and bold visions and the courage to pursue them.

I hope so.

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Novel News!

Given that “novel” can mean “new,” that title may seem a bit redundant — but in this case it refers to the literary type of novel.

Here’s the news: I’m pleased to announce that I’ve contracted with WordFire Press of Monument, Colorado, to publish my near-future science fiction novel, Walking on the Sea of Clouds!

(Image from NASA-Goddard and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.)


As you might gather from the image above, Walking on the Sea of Clouds has something to do with the Moon. Specifically, it’s about the early days of the first commercial lunar colony.

We already have lots of stories that depict successful, thriving lunar bases and colonies either as primary locations or as jumping-off places; two of the most famous, of course, are Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and Robert A. Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. But before there can ever be large, sprawling bases on the Moon there first have to be small encampments with only a few people living somewhat precariously — and that’s what my novel is about. It’s a story of the struggle to survive in a harsh environment, the drive to succeed in a dangerous endeavor, and the sacrifices that we may have to make to achieve our dreams.

I’m very pleased to be working with WordFire Press, which was started by bestselling authors Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta. WordFire is a small and relatively new press with an impressive list of books in its catalog, ranging from reissued midlist titles of established authors like David Farland, Alan Dean Foster, Jody Lynn Nye, and Mike Resnick, to new titles from up-and-coming authors including my friends Cat Rambo, Ken Scholes, and Brad Torgersen.

So, these are exciting times for the Gray Man! As we go through the editing and production process, I’ll post occasional updates, and of course as we get closer to completion I’ll post plans for the novel’s release and any “book launch”-type events we pursue.

And I hope we can interest you in going Walking on the Sea of Clouds!

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First Indian Lunar Mission

Five years ago today — October 22, 2008 — the Indian Space Research Organization launched a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle from the Satish Dhawan Space Center, carrying a lunar mapping satellite.

(Technicians prepare Chandrayaan 1 for orbit. Indian Space Research Organization image.)

Chandrayaan 1, or “Moon Craft 1,” was India’s first lunar mission. The spacecraft achieved lunar orbit on November 8, 2008, after a series of orbit-raising maneuvers. It returned images and data — including from a “Moon impact probe” that it released — until contact was lost in August 2009.

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The Future of the Space History Series

I started my space history series of blog entries five years ago this month. I’ve never claimed that it was authoritative or museum-quality, or even particularly complete. But since I’ve concentrated on hitting events on their 5-year anniversaries, I’ve gotten to the point that I would be repeating entries.

Air and Space Museum
(If you want museum-quality coverage of space history, you’re better off going to a museum. “Air and Space Museum” by Rob Crawley, on Flickr via Creative Commons.)

For instance, I posted about today’s anniversary of the Explorer 5 launch five years ago (although then I missed the event by one day). But I don’t see the point of repeating things I’ve already catalogued, so the nature of the series is going to have to change.

I plan to be more selective about entries from now on. I may pick out select incidents that are particularly important to me, or I may pick more contemporary items to highlight. I haven’t decided exactly how I want to proceed.

If you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them! For instance, yesterday Guy Stewart suggested this story about Lunar Orbiter 1 taking the first picture of Earth from the Moon, which happened 47 years ago yesterday. Great story, Guy!

So, to sum up: Many thanks to everyone who has enjoyed the series, and let us know what you think we do from here on out!

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Pioneer Zero: First Attempted Lunar Mission

Fifty-five years ago today — August. 17, 1958 — the U.S. made its first attempt at sending a spacecraft to the Moon.

(Pioneer 0. NASA image.)

Called alternately Pioneer 0 or Able 1, the satellite launched on a Thor-Able rocket out of Cape Canaveral. Not only was it the first attempt to reach the Moon, but it was “the first attempted lauch beyond Earth orbit by any country.”

Unfortunately, the first stage of the Thor exploded 77 seconds into the flight.

Failure was suspected to be due to a ruptured fuel or oxygen line or a faulty turbopump gearbox. Erratic telemetry signals were received from the payload and upper stages for 123 seconds after the explosion, and the upper stages were tracked to impact in the ocean.

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The Spirit Rover Begins Its Martian Journey

Ten years ago today — June 10, 2003 — a Delta 2 rocket launched from Cape Canaveral carrying Mars Exploration Rover A, or “Spirit.”

(“Spirit” Mars Exploration Rover. NASA image.)

Spirit was one of two rovers designed to traverse the Martian surface to search for evidence of life, characterize the Martian climate and geology, and improve our understanding of Mars in advance of sending people to explore. Spirit’s twin, named “Opportunity,” launched a month later. Their mission’s scientific objectives were to:

1) search for and characterize a variety of rocks and soils that hold clues to past water activity,
2) determine the distribution and composition of minerals, rocks, and soils surrounding the landing sites,
3) determine what geologic processes have shaped the local terrain and influenced the chemistry,
4) perform “ground truth” of surface observations made by Mars orbiter instruments,
5) search for iron-bearing minerals, identify and quantify relative amounts of specific mineral types that contain water or were formed in water,
6) characterize the mineralogy and textures of rocks and soils and determine the processes that created them, and
7) search for geological clues to the environmental conditions that existed when liquid water was present and assess whether those environments were conducive to life.

The rovers landed successfully on Mars in January 2004. They originally were only supposed to operate for 90 Martian days (a little over 92 Earth days), but Spirit operated until March 2010 and Opportunity is still going.

In other space history …

The same day Spirit launched, Sea Launch placed the Thuraya 2 communications satellite in orbit from the Odyssey platform. Thuraya 2 is owned by the United Arab Emitrates, and provides service to the Middle East, India, etc., from geostationary orbit.*

And on this date 40 years ago, the Radio Astronomy Explorer B — also known as Explorer 49 — launched from Cape Canaveral on a Delta rocket. Its sister spacecraft, RAE-A (or Explorer 38), had been launched in July 1968. RAE-B conducted radio atronomy from an orbit around the Moon, and operated until 1977.

*Noted primarily because I like Sea Launch, having gone on one of their launch campaigns.

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Exploring Earth’s Atmosphere, a Lunar Flyby, and a Space Odyssey

Fifty years ago today — April 2, 1963 — two quite different launches happened in the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

(Explorer 17. NASA image.)

The U.S. launched Explorer 17, also known as Atmospheric Explorer A, the first in a series of satellites to study the upper atmosphere. The satellite launched in the late evening — already April 3rd, UTC — on a Thor-Delta rocket out of Cape Canaveral, and operated until its batteries failed in July 1963.

Earlier in the day, the Soviet Union had launched Luna 4, the “first successful spacecraft of their ‘second generation’ lunar program.” It launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on a Molniya rocket — a Modified SS-6 (Sapwood) ICBM. Interestingly, the USSR did not reveal Luna 4’s intended mission, but “was announced it would travel to ‘the vicinity of the Moon.'”

Rather than being sent on a straight trajectory toward the Moon, the spacecraft was placed first in a 167 x 182 km Earth orbit and then was rocketed in a curving path towards the Moon. Luna 4 achieved the desired initial trajectory but during trans-lunar coast the Yupiter astronavigation system failed (most likely due to thermal control problems) and the spacecraft could not be oriented properly for the planned midcourse correction burn. Communications were maintained, but Luna 4 missed the Moon by about 8400 km (sources give reports of 8336.2, 8451, and 8500 km) at 13:25 UT on 5 April 1963 and entered a 89 250 x 694 000 km equatorial Earth orbit. The spacecraft transmitted at 183.6 MHz at least until 7 April. The orbit is believed to have been later perturbed into a heliocentric orbit.

… It was speculated the probe was designed to perform a soft landing on the Moon based on the trajectory and on the later attempted landings of the Luna 5 and 6 spacecraft, as well as the advances made over the 3 years since the successful Luna 3 flyby. (And the fact that a lecture program entitled “Hitting the Moon”, scheduled to be broadcast on Radio Moscow at 7:45 p.m. the evening of April 5, was cancelled.)

Before all of this happened, on this date 55 years ago President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent “draft legislation to Congress establishing the ‘National Aeronautics and Space Agency.'” The name was soon changed to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. You can read more about NASA’s beginnings here.

Finally, 45 years ago today — April 2, 1968 — 2001: A Space Odyssey premiered at the Uptown Theatre in Washington, DC. This page includes a retrospective on its early run.

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Three Days, Three Lunar Launches … A Few Years Apart

It seemed interesting that the anniversaries of three lunar launches fell on three consecutive days, so I’ve grouped them all in one blog post.

(Lunar Prospector. NASA image.)

The first of the three launches happened 45 years ago today — January 7, 1968 — when Surveyor 7 launched from Cape Canaveral on an Atlas Centaur rocket. The spacecraft landed on the Moon on January 9, making it the fifth of the Apollo pathfinder series to achieve a soft landing.

And 40 years ago tomorrow — January 8, 1973 — the Soviet Union launched Luna 21 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on a Proton K rocket. Luna 21 carried and deployed Lunokhod 2, the USSR’s second lunar rover. The rover covered about 37 km during its four months of operations.

Finally, 15 years ago yesterday — January 6, 1998* — Lunar Prospector launched on an Athena 2 rocket out of Cape Canaveral. Lunar Prospector entered a low lunar polar orbit in order primarily to map the Moon’s surface for possible polar ice deposits, though it also carried instruments to study the Moon’s magnetic and gravity fields.

The mission ended on 31 July 1999 at 9:52:02 UT (5:52:02 EDT) when Lunar Prospector was deliberately targeted to impact in a permanently shadowed area of a crater near the lunar south pole. It was hoped that the impact would liberate water vapor from the suspected ice deposits in the crater and that the plume would be detectable from Earth, however, no plume was observed.

The spacecraft was sent into Shoemaker crater, and carried a portion of the remains of astronomer Eugene Shoemaker, which became a topic of discussion among the lunar colonists in my unpublished novel, Walking on the Sea of Clouds.

*It was already January 7 under Greenwich Mean Time (Universal Time).

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The Final — No, the Most Recent — Lunar Mission

Forty years ago today — December 7, 1972 — Apollo 17 lifted off aboard a Saturn V rocket out of Cape Canaveral as the last Apollo lunar mission.

(Gene Cernan, the most recent man to walk on the Moon. NASA image.)

Astronauts Eugene A. Cernan, Ronald E. Evans, and Harrison H. Schmitt comprised the Apollo 17 crew. On their first day in space, the crew took the iconic “Blue Marble” photograph with a hand-held Hasselblad camera.

Cernan and Schmitt landed the Lunar Module “Challenger” in the Taurus-Littrow region of the Moon on December 11. Evans stayed in lunar orbit aboard the Command and Service Module “America.”

Apollo 17 focused on surveying surface features and sampling geological materials in a region selected because it would yield both older and younger samples than previous Apollo missions, and featured Schmitt as the first scientist to land on the Moon. Schmitt and Cernan drove the lunar rover a total of 30.5 kilometers during their 75-hour stay on the Moon, and collected 110.4 kilograms (243 pounds) of lunar material.

When Cernan climbed aboard the Lunar Module to depart the moon, he said, “We leave as we came and God willing as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind.”* Usually he is referred to as the last man to walk on the Moon, but I prefer to think of him as the most recent man to walk on the Moon.

And even though I won’t get to be the next person to walk on the Moon, I hope someday to see another person walk on the Moon, and Mars, and even other worlds.

*Shameless plug: I made that sentiment a key part of my short story, “Memorial at Copernicus.”

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Another Election is Over … Plus Some Space History

“Every country has the government it deserves.” So said Joseph de Maistre, and his words ring true to me.

What is it we deserve, then? On a national level, it seems that the politics of class warfare, handouts, and cradle-to-grave coddling have again won the day, and since the resulting system is unlikely to be sustainable over the long term, it seems that we deserve to — or we have at least voted to — decline as a nation. I hate to think it, and I will work to postpone and even correct it, but we seem to be living out the aphorism about the people destroying the republic by voting themselves largesse out of the public treasury.*

Meanwhile, the calendar turned over, and it is another day. And forty-five years ago today — November 7, 1967 — Surveyor 6, the fourth in the series to soft-land on the Moon, was launched from Cape Canaveral on an Atlas Centaur rocket. It would be less than two years before human beings — our countrymen — walked on the Moon.

(We went there, a long time ago, remember? NASA image.)

We had ambitions then, and big dreams. Those were the days.

*Attributed in various forms to several different people, including Benjamin Franklin, George Orwell, Alexis de Tocqueville, and Alexander Fraser Tytler.

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