Holding the Moon
October 22, 2009
This is a very exciting and busy period, for which there is scarcely time to write about. The Augustine Committe Report was released today, giving the President options for continuing in Space. One of those options, the Ares 1-X test vehicle has been rolled onto the Launch Pad 39-B for an October 27 launch. Nearby at Launch Complex 40, the SpaceX Falcon 9 will soon attempt a launch. Though friends at NASA sometimes scoff at private space, Elon Musk may be the best hope for shuttling crew to orbit. Whether to land again or just orbit, the goal is still the Moon.
This is a piece of the Moon, a real lunar sample from Apollo! How much is it worth? We can take the cost of the Apollo program, about 200 billion in constant dollars, and divide it by the 381.7 kg of material returned for a market price of 50 million per kilogram. This little bag cost almost as much as my Naval aircraft.
Of course Apollo had other benefits. It jumpstarted technology and science education in the US, leading to uncounted technical advances. It inspired a whole generation to study math and science. The famous Earthrise photo from Apollo 8 showed all humanity how small our planet is. The Lunar Laser Ranging Experiment is one more proof of "c change" in physics, a slowing speed of light.
These priceless samples are kept under the strictest security. Back in 2002 a very foolish intern tried to steal some samples, and is still in the Federal pen. To even get near these rocks one needs a security clearance and a strict background check. (Could "crackpot pest" from Cornell with his Stalinist beliefs get a security clearance? What was that guy's name and what has he ever accomplished?)
It feels like an honour to hold a piece of the Moon. It is a reminder of the enormous achievement 40 years ago. The experiments to be done with this sample will make it safer for humans to return to the Moon and get more. Someday Moon rocks may sit in classrooms, inspiring children to reach higher and farther.