Monday, December 03, 2007


From the blog LOCUST STREET:

35 years ago this week, America launched it's Last mission to the Moon.

: On the evening of December 6, when a newly re-elected Richard Nixon is in Washington, when Harry Truman lies dying in a Kansas City hospital, the last manned lunar mission, Apollo 17, lifts off from Florida and enters space.

There is a general, if unspoken sense that this is the end: the last moon launch many will see in their lifetimes. In the stands watching the launch at Cape Kennedy, there is an odd assortment of people: Tom Wolfe, covering the launch for Rolling Stone; Charlie Smith, a 130-year-old man believed to be the oldest living American; and Ahmet Ertegun, who plays backgammon in the grass.

Playing on a transistor radio is the previous summer's hit, Elton John's "Rocket Man," in which space travel has become just another long commute. It's a song inspired by a Ray Bradbury story, or it's about drugs, or maybe about being a parent. The most telling lines, though, come in the chorus: I think it's going to be a long, long time...

The crew of Apollo 17 is Eugene Cernan, Ronald Evans and Harrison Schmitt. Five hours after launch, Schmitt takes a photograph of the departing earth that later is known as "The Blue Marble." On December 11, Cernan and Schmitt become the last human beings to walk on the moon, bringing a Czechoslovakian flag (Cernan's parents were a Czech and a Slovak) and leaving a plaque on the surface, signed by the astronauts and Richard Nixon: "Here Man completed his first explorations of the moon, December 1972 AD. May the spirit of peace in which we came be reflected in the lives of all mankind."

Harrison Schmitt on the moon

On the ride back to Earth, the crew hears Nixon speaking from the Oval Office: "This may be the last time in this century that men will walk on the moon, but space exploration will continue." The astronauts are incredulous--the last time this century? It is only 1972. Schmitt actually weeps. But Nixon knows the truth.

The Moon is a white strange world, great, white, soft-seeming globe in the night sky, and what she actually communicates to me across space I shall never fully know. But the Moon that pulls the tides, and the Moon that controls the menstrual periods of women, and the Moon that touches the lunatics, she is not the mere dead lump of the astronomist...When we describe the Moon as dead, we are describing the deadness in ourselves. When we find space so hideously void, we are describing our own unbearable emptiness.

D.H. Lawrence, Phoenix: The Posthumous Papers of D.H. Lawrence, 1930.


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