The Moon in HD
Interior of Apollo Lunar Module.
Japan's Kaguya probe is the largest lunar mission since the days of Apollo. Today we have HDTV footage of the surface from only 100 km! The Moon's lack of atmosphere makes judging distance difficult--this footage makes one feel very close. Look at the video here!
Wednesday Germany announced plans to join the club with their own lunar orbiter. Deputy Economic Minister Pete Hintze (Aerospace Coordinator) said a probe called LEO could be launched in 2012. With Japan, China, Russia and possibly the US the Moon could be a crowded place. All these plans depend on funding. Even US Moon plans could be sidelined if America's government loses interest.
Some old scientists like Steven Weinberg begrudge human spaceflight for somehow taking funds from particle physics. They forget that funding is not a zero-sum game. While budget cuts go across the board, a rising tide in science lifts all boats. Advances in particle physics coincide with rocketry.
The modern Space Age began with Konstantin Tsiolkovsky's papers of 1904. At the same time physics advanced with Planck's paper on quantum mechanics (1900) and Einstein's papers of 1905. The next advance came with Robert Goddard launching a liquid fuel rocket in 1926. Almost simultaneously De Broglie introduced matter waves (1924); Heisenberg formulated matrix mechanics (1925) followed by the Uncertainty Principle (1927). Practical advances in physics and rocketry continued apace from the 1930's to 1940's with nuclear fission and ballistic missiles.
The launch of Sputnik 50 years ago last month triggered immense interest in physical science. Human spaceflight ascended along with formulation of the Standard Model. Physics has been in a deep slump since approximately 1974, coincident with the end of the Apollo program. Since the mid-1970's no human has been beyond Earth orbit and there has been Trouble with Physics. Can all this be just a coincidence?
Apollo returned an immense bounty of science. It returned the oldest rocks ever found, which told us that the Moon is a daughter of Earth born from collision. The Lunar Laser Ranging Experiment revealed that the Moon has a liquid core, indicated that Newton’s G is probably constant, and provided one more test of Einstein’s General Relativity. Photos of the Earth rising in Space triggered the modern environmental movement. As was recounted just 2 weeks ago, a Lunar Anomaly is evidence that the speed of light is slowing to this day. Science and human exploration must continue apace or both will suffer.