Wednesday, 21 July 2004

Memories of Futures Past

Days of Futures Past was the 1967 Moody Blues Album, which is really quite appropriate. Those were the Days (my friend), but now... File this one under 'Space'.

From NASA :
laser reflector arrayA cutting-edge science experiment left behind in the Sea of Tranquility by Apollo 11 astronauts is still running today.
Ringed by footprints, sitting in the moondust, lies a 2-foot wide panel studded with 100 mirrors pointing at Earth: the "lunar laser ranging retroreflector array." Apollo 11 astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong put it there on July 21, 1969, about an hour before the end of their final moonwalk. Thirty-five years later, it's the only Apollo science experiment still running.

University of Maryland physics professor Carroll Alley was the project's principal investigator during the Apollo years, and he follows its progress today. "Using these mirrors," explains Alley, "we can 'ping' the moon with laser pulses and measure the Earth-moon distance very precisely. This is a wonderful way to learn about the moon's orbit and to test theories of gravity."
More and better data could reveal strange fluctuations in gravity, amendments to Einstein, the "sloshing" of the moon's core. Time will tell ... and there's plenty of time. Lunar mirrors require no power source. They haven't been covered with moondust or pelted by meteoroids, as early Apollo planners feared. Lunar ranging should continue for decades, perhaps for centuries.
It's a good job we placed this reflector 35 years ago, because we couldn't do it today. the question is, will be able to do it 10 years from now? 15? 20? And will the anthem played be the "Star-Mangled SpannerStar-Spangled Banner" or "The East is Red"?

As an Australian... I don't mind who does it , as long as it gets done. The old bit about 'We came in peace for all Mankind', remember? Or probably not, unless you're well into middle age. Memories of Futures, Past.

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