Something massive rests beneath the far side of the moon. Maybe a large military base, in which case, uh-oh!
American geophysicists reported on this last month, an unknown mass some 370 miles beneath the South Pole-Aitken Basin on the moon.
Scientists have long known about this crater, even though it’s never visible from Earth. It is 1,200 miles wide, a hole in diameter roughly the distance of St. Joseph to Phoenix. And it’s several miles deep.
In short, a big, deep hole. And far beneath it, something affects the moon’s gravitational pull.
Obviously, short of any knowledge of geophysics, I have no idea what that something might be. But I wonder.
The last couple of days have been given over to commemorations of the 50th anniversary for the first moon landing. I’ve loved every minute.
Watching one show about the Apollo 11 mission, footage showed the high-wire act of landing a craft on the lunar surface with courage and educated guesswork. I knew how it came out, but I still felt my heart speed up.
It’s hard to explain now, an old guy thinking back on grade-school years, what the moon landing meant back then.
Astronauts became the rock stars of the age. The names of their programs, first Mercury and then Gemini, seemed exotic in my home town of 1,200 residents. Every launch became an event.
This audacious plan to send Americans to the moon gained steam during a tumultuous time in the nation’s and my family’s history.
My brother shipped out to fight in Vietnam. My parents had gotten involved in a business venture that didn’t work out. Two American leaders had been assassinated in a short period, and protests roiled the country.
Yet here was this thing, this bold enterprise, where brave souls strapped themselves atop explosives, traveled 239,000 miles into the great empty and carried out complicated maneuvers that could only be approximately practiced back home.
And for all the danger involved, the chance that Americans sent into space would never return, that the nation would mourn and wear that failure, it came off brilliantly, with technical ingenuity, individual moxie and even a poetic flare.
(In the 1960s-centered drama “Mad Men,” the patriarch of an advertising firm hears Neil Armstrong’s words – “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” – and recognizes them immediately as better than any tagline his firm could muster. He responds, simply, “Bravo!”)
For a 13-year-old boy in the Missouri outback, the dream seemed ample, not necessarily to become an astronaut but just knowing that an achievement could follow the bigness of an ambition.
The question has been asked in conjunction with this anniversary: Why doesn’t the United States do big things anymore?
It remains true that the American space program had people in orbit most years since the first moon landing. It also remains true that Americans largely lost interest in space.
Recapturing that sense of national purpose, of beating the Soviets at a game they started, would be hard. Devoting that many resources to a scientific endeavor, at a time when too many in power regard science with disdain, would be harder.
Besides, the engineering minds of this generation build not rockets but smartphone apps. The world, I guess, needs Candy Crush, too.
View this anniversary, then, as something nostalgic, a look back at an American high point, one unifying despite its era of discord.
The “giant leap for mankind” appears to be still out there.