July 22, 2012

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Been There, Done That

image by Brent Garry, Planetary Science Institute, Sterling, Virginia

43 years ago Apollo 11 landed at Tranquillity Base and two tourists explored the Moon, or a very, very tiny piece of it. Look closely at this overlay of spacecraft traverses on a Google Earth view of the National Mall in the heart of Washington, DC. At the center of the graphic is a tiny squiggle of yellow that depicts to scale the area explored by Neil and Buzz. Their travels were limited to one piece of one lawn facing 14th Street. They didn't get out of that patch of grass, didn't have to even brave the joggers along the paths at the grass' edge. Circling the Washington Monument, in blue, is the much longer path of two EVAs of Apollo 12. Pete and Al walked over to the Surveyor 3 spacecraft and like many tourists broke off some pieces to bring home as souvenirs. The next Apollo mission to achieve a landing was 14, shown in red. Like visitors trying to see everything in a short (33 hrs) stay, Al (a different one) and Ed made longer treks, pulling a cart with picnic supplies, opps, equipment, hiking as far as the grounds of the US Capital. After their tiring day of business they both partook of relaxations, with Al playing a little golf and Ed throwing a makeshift javelin. For comparison with this human exploration, the green traverse traces the more leisurely sojourn of the robotic MER Spirit across Mars. Landing near the front steps of the Capital, Spirit found no evidence of intelligent life and then traveled ever westward, having no need for a return to its landing site. Spirit visited some of its relatives at the Air and Space Museum, looked for Wilbur Mills at the Tidal Basin and paid homage to two great presidents, neither of whom said, Been there, done that.

Chuck Wood

Technical Details
Thanks to Brent Garry for making these comparisons of our planetary exploration with familiar landscape. Our lunar exploration has barely started. It wasn't until Apollo 15 that we got off the Mall, and even after Apollo 17 we were still in the suburbs. A whole world awaits us.

Related Links
See some of Brent's other comparisons here.
Sunday morning addition: Dave Kring of the Lunar & Planetary Institute created a similar comparison and more direct statement about the incompleteness of our lunar exploration here.

Yesterday's LPOD: Chocolate Moon

Tomorrow's LPOD: Measure And Learn


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