December 14, 2012

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Liftoff To the End

video from NASA

The last humans to walk on another world left it 40 years ago today. Apollo was one of the most successful large projects in history, going from nothing to audacious success in less than a decade. Apollo 17 astronauts Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt explored 36 km of terrain and 111 kg of samples were carefully collected to bring to Earth. The rocks, along with those from the previous five successful missions, ignited the modern understanding of the solar system. The age of lunar formation was determined to be the same as Earth's. The Moon was found to be an evolved world, not a primitive one as Nobel Prize winner Harold Urey argued. The Moon's intense accretion process led to the totally unexpected melting that formed a magma ocean and a low density anorthosite crust, which was recognized from the very first Apollo samples. The Moon rocks carried no sign of life and none, with the era's instrumentation, of water - the Moon, although very similar to Earth chemically, had a completely different history. And with the calibration of lunar crater counts by Apollo rock ages, a firm geological time scale was established for the Moon and then used as the basis for age assignments for other planets. And for 40 years, other than a few meteorites, we've had no new samples to test new theories or to demolish them. LRO, Kaguya and other orbiters have greatly enhanced our knowledge, but everything is circumstantial without samples intelligently collected from critical known locations. I doubt if any American will return to the Moon while any of the Apollo astronauts survive. From history's perspective I believe this will be considered a national disgrace.

Chuck Wood

Note Andy Chaiken has just released a short video about Apollo 17.

Yesterday's LPOD: Confirmation

Tomorrow's LPOD: Moore


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