Moon and Balloon

Two things happened, and both concerned the moon.

Eugene 'Gene' Cernan, a member of the Apollo 17 mission, and the last man to walk on the moon, died at 82; and Mountain View was given the go ahead by the US federal government to send its Moon Express to our natural satellite.

Moon exploration: China is landing on the far side of the moon in 2018, and there's a good reason why

Bidding farewell to the last man to feel the lunar surface under his feet, was always going to be a poignant parting, not least because it finally feels that the last of the 'right stuff' has dissipated into the cosmos...drifting slowly through the vacuum, edging towards the end of time.

As for the Moon Express, well that's just a trailblazer that will herald the baying mining machines that will soon follow it to the moon. Yes, Mountain View has plans to mine the moon for natural resources, mainly titanium, silicon, and magnesia. Good luck with that!

But let's face it; they're not the only ones that have the inclination to strip the moon to its core. The Chinese are already in advanced preparations for a manned moon mission, as are numerous other private space exploration and mining firms, and they're hardly courting the tourism industry.

The moon itself, however, no longer captures the imagination the way it did in the 1950s and 60s. It's the solar system's 'meh'; the rock that orbits us as we make our way through the system.

The moon may, however, have one more pivotal use – if for a moment you remove the fantasy of a military base sitting high above the Earth ready to rain down destruction on errant nations.

While it's a commonly held perception that manned exploration will not extend beyond Mars, or at best the moons of Jupiter, the Moon could well be the perfect site from which to launch a manned Mars or Jovian mission.

Speculation is rife that that's exactly what the Chinese are planning to do. Launch their spacefarers from the low gravity of the moon towards the Red Planet and beyond – maybe even to the resource-rich asteroid belt.

Little did we think that when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took their first steps on the moon back on July 21, 1969, that would be as far as we would go for the next 48 years.

We were supposed to be out there in the Oort Cloud; we were supposed to be swimming with the under-ice leviathans on Europa; we were supposed to be mining the gas giants for Helium-3 to power our fusion-powered spaceships; we were supposed to do so much.

As it stands we can barely elect our heads-of-state.

Man will get to Mars, of that there is no doubt, but beyond that is the realm of self-replicating probes, and information-laden photino filaments. We'll just sit here for a bit on our rock, and wait.

One wonders what was going through Gene's mind as he looked upon the blue spheroid that hung in the sky. He probably thought it was just the beginning of an epic migration, brimming with scientific verve and good ol' derring-do. He probably smiled too.

Well, farewell Gene, and let's hope those that follow you still carry the sense of awe and wonder that made explorers like you such cosmic models.

If only the Ultimate Observers could see us now? Hardly! If only the Ultimate Observers could have seen us then!