Thursday, June 4, 2009

Observations from the far side of the moon

Electricity is actually made up of extremely tiny particles called electrons. You cannot see these with the naked eye unless you have been smoking pot. Then everything becomes crystal clear. You can even slow them down in time so you can examine them more closely. Even then it does no good to try and talk to them; they are on a mission. Sometimes I think I understand everything in the universe. Then I regain consciousness.

One of the first things the Soviets did to show up the USA back during the Cold War when artificial satellites were the latest cool thing, was to send one to orbit the moon and take pictures of the dark side of the moon. Mankind had never seen a picture of the "back" of the moon - the moon always shows the same face to the Earth. It is just as barren and cratered as the side Earthlings can see, but the features are different. No Sea of Tranquility back there.

Actually there is no real "dark" side of the moon; the sun lights up that side too, but you just can't see it. I have a copy of one of the pictures of the other side of the moon that the Ruskies took a long time ago, but I am not going to show it to you because you are not paying attention.

That's a big fat lie. Unless you are blind you have already looked at the photo above. You just didn't know how sublimely awesome it was, did you? Now you know. Beethoven never saw this. William the Conqueror never saw this. George Washington never saw this. You did. Just a little dividend for being alive at this point in history.

But the USA got the last laugh because they won the Space Race. See, there used to be a competition to see who could land a man on the moon first. The Soviet Union had a really big head start. All the USA seemed proficient at was blowing up rockets on launching pads. It was quite embarrassing. But then our scientists, both home-grown and ex-Nazi, got down to business and, just in time to save JFK from being a liar, put men on the moon before the decade was over, as he had promised.

And then we did it again. And again. And again.

And then we played golf on the moon. At least Alan Shepherd hit one up there. A nice little 1200-yard drive. I don't think NASA knew he had sneaked a club and ball into the LEM. Maybe they did. But contraband wasn't new. The astronauts, after all, were American, and that meant ingenuity and free enterprise. Rumor had it that as early as Gus Grissom, they were carrying rolls of coins into space and then selling them for a premium. Space dimes. Come and get 'em while they're hot. And let us not even TALK about the little moon rocks that didn't make their way into the hands of our scientists. Or so they say.

And the Ruskies? It has become very apparent that the only way they are EVER going to get to the moon is if we take them.



Alan Shepherd was the first American in space in 1961, but many remember him as the man who played golf on the moon 10 years later.

[The photograph at the top of this post was taken by NASA and is not a copy of the photo taken much earlier by the USSR. If you click on the photo, you can make it MUCH larger.]


  1. NASA knew, they had to. Every ounce of mass, every tiny bit of volume had to be accounted for when they left. You don't think the astronauts pack themselves, do you?

    In some ways the Russians were way ahead, in others, they were just barely. There are something they've always had the edge on (like space stations [Solyut1 - 1971] and automated space activities/rendezvous where as the US depends on astronauts to do that stuff) and others where we've taken and held the lead (our space shuttle worked; theirs, not so much).

    As for Russia never getting to the moon without our help...I don't know. There are several organizations worldwide that might pull it off. We're just one of them.

  2. I never did quite understand Tales from the Far Side.

  3. Great photo, never saw it before!

  4. @Stephanie - Well. Maybe they do Noooo-oow. But back then they just weighed all the stuff on a feed scales next to the isolation trailer.

    No, I don't think the astronauts pack themselves but I do think they mostly dress themselves. Especially back in the days of Gus Grissom.

    I know this happened many years before you were born - so I forgive your modern thinking which is based on modern times - but you should know that these early guys were cowboy test pilots who resented being treated like non-essential monkeys by the German rocket guys. There were more than a few occasions when the original group showed their handlers that they were human beings. Especially guys like Alan Shepherd and Gus Grissom (who DID screw the pooch) and Gordo Cooper. Not the boy scouts, admittedly: Scott Carpenter and John Glenn.

    It was a different era than you are experiencing today. Fun though.

  5. A general observation, NOT directed at my friend S:

    If Russia (or anyone else) does it 40 years after we did it, it doesn't count. Perhaps in another 40 years Mozambique will do it. Perhaps in 100 years, even the French. I am speaking of an era of pioneers here - a time when one didn't know if the rocket was going to explode under one's ass, and that added a special flavor to the launch. I speak of a time even before the first moon landing (though, even then, they used to quarantine the astronauts for fear they may have contracted some alien bug on the moon.) The point is not that the Russians might be able to go to the moon today. The point is they couldn't pull it off 40 years ago and we could.

  6. @Stephanie B - I know you were mostly agreeing with me, and, in turn, I agree with you about the Russians being proficient (after the space race was over and they lost) at pretending they were interested in things like space stations rather than landing on the moon.

    It's just that your comment made me think of some other things. I respect what you and your colleagues are doing today; I hope I didn't sound like I didn't. You will never know how much I support and even dream about our space program.

  7. @Sheila - I will send you a postcard from the Dark Side. If you get my drift. :)

    @Frostygirl - I KNEW you hadn't seen it! I KNEW it! You still haven't told me about your major ethical blunders. Don't think I have forgotten. :)

    Never mind. Just teasing you.

  8. Actually, even back then center of gravity and loose debris in the cabin are big issues. After Apollo 1, you better believe the folks on the ground knew every damn thing in the command module (I wasn't there, but I've known personally more than my fair share of people who worked on missions back then, including the guy in charge of all the Apollo avionics and a member of the team working the LiO canister problem for Apollo 13). Hell, the crew didn't pack any damn thing into the Lunar Lander - since they didn't connect until they got on orbit.

    I know they didn't have the equivalent of middeck lockers and the like back then, but space and mass was very much at a premium. Have you seen a Mercury capsule? Some of our suits today have more elbow room.

    The Russians have had an active space station (in that it was a dockable pressurized environment that could be inhabited by humans in a shirt sleeve environment) pretty much since 1971. Some of the early Solyuts were pretty pathetic, but they fit the definition. Do remember that, short of the moon landing, almost every space first are the Russians/Soviets. Even today, they have strengths we don't have and vice versa (our TDRSS system, for instance, is a vast improvement over the fly-over-a-ground-station method of communicating the Russians still use).

    The failures they had, like Soyuz 1, were what really stopped the Russian moon shot. A bankrupt nation almost killed Russia's space programs and I have to give them points for keeping it afloat despite the challenges.

    It might comfort you to know the astronauts still call quite a few shots which is why the Shuttle was designed unable to land itself. I'm actually a little saddened I didn't know more about space history before I started working here 20 years ago.

    This is not to say that landing on the moon isn't a hell of an achievement that no one but the US has ever managed. It is. Nor do I consider anything we've done in space before or after (including ISS) as impressive. Personal opinion. When we go back, unfortunately, it will never have quite the power of the first. In fact, even if we set up colonies on the moon, I don't think any nation will get to take the title from us until they've walked on Mars. And, yeah, I hope were involved in that too so we can keep the trophy.

  9. "I'll see you on the dark side of the moon." Pink Floyd

    I love everything about the moon and space. I even liked the movie Space Cowboys, where Tommy Lee Jones got to ... but I won't spoil it for you. Sutherland was a hoot.

    Sadly, I will never go into space. Between my greatest fear (death by suffocation) and my claustrophobia, I would probably have a fatal anxiety attack before I could even try the suit on.

  10. @Stephanie - I didn't mean to imply the astronauts of today don't have a good deal of input, and that they are not respected team members. I was talking about the original group who were thought of as unnecessary sometimes, quite like the Russian monkeys. At least by von Braun and his peers. Or so the story goes, and the astronauts didn't like it much. And,no, I doubt if anything was "smuggled" on any Apollo flight. Mercury could have been different, and some allege it was. Not talking about a car jack. Talking about a roll of dimes.

    The Russians were ahead of us in technology; behind us in funding. Some Americans are still not in love with them. Glad you have let bygones be bygones. It was different when they had nuclear weapons pointed at us day and night. It colors your thinking.

    I was thinking about what you said about the first landing on Mars and how it would match the excitement of the moon landing era. I have my doubts. Things change. People of today are pretty blase and not easily impressed. I can't imagine people today glued to their television sets for anything but Dancing with the Stars or American Idol. But it was a great time in our history.

  11. Interesting post & comments too. I don't normally read the comments.... :-)

  12. @Janet - I googled and googled for a decent picture of the other side of the moon and all that kept coming up was Pink Floyd. I finally just went directly to NASA. I remember the movie Space Cowboys. A good movie. Not reality-based... :)

    Claustrophobia? But space is the most wide-open and unrestrictive environment you could ever hope for! That's why they call it "space". Heh. Please reconsider. :)

    I wonder if anyone in history has ever felt more alone than Armstrong and Aldren? Or, for that matter, the first space walker alone on his on his tether. Both would require immense concentration on the task at hand and not allow oneself to dwell on his aloneness. I think about weird things, sometimes.

    I can't argue about the ever-present danger of suffocation though. The same type of self control would apply for the driver of a bathysphere exploring the Titanic, no? The ultimate claustrophobia, I would think. Sorry.

  13. Actually, claustrophobia is a serious concern, even in today's vessels.

    I don't know that we'd have the same excitement landing on the moon, but I do know that we had gillions [technical term] of hits when our Martian rovers started taking pictures. It kept crashing the site. But it may never be like that first stroll on the Moon.

    Nor do I think you're wrong about how blase people have begun. In the Apollo era, no one could think how it was managed. Now, everyone thinks they could do it better.

    As for the Russians and bygones, I'd have to be blind not to acknowledge what they have done (and they WEREN'T ahead on technology so much as they were moving forward with less prep. Our stolen Germans were the most advanced [though the largely ignored Goddard was a genius], but they were almost as good to start with. However, the Russians jumped into their space plan while we were still fighting amongst ourselves as to which agency would take the lead).

    As for the nuclear weapons, my recollection is that they had as many pointed at them as we had pointed at us. And we were the only country that ever used them against another. And that's also food for thought.

    Now, if we want to talk about how the Soviet leadership misused it's own people, that's another story. I agree. But on the nuclear race, we're no more innocent than they are.

  14. It's almost all been said.
    Back in 1969, I was a fifteen year old boy. And as july rolled in, I was in a hospital bed, in a single room, dying.
    I clearly remember the ward sister's voice, as the nurse approached my door, saying "Don't go in there tonight, nurse, the boy's dying".
    And I distinctly recall thinking that I wasn't ready to die, looking down at myself in the bed, as though I was floating in green water, and I remember thinking... men are going to the moon, and I'll never know if they get there....

    I started the long and painful return to my body, from the place I'd been, where there was no pain...
    A few days later, I was able to get out of bed, and walk, slow, wobbly steps, down the corridor to a ward where there was a television, to watch, at three fifty-six in the morning (england) this:-

    So it's a bit significant in my personal history!

  15. sweet jesus. no wonder i just skim over your posts -- you need to cut down on the weed dude - its starting to show ...


  16. I am in awe over soubriquet's comment.

    As to my claustrophobia, no, I could never be in a submarine either.

  17. Nazis were good at blowing things up, who'd have guessed?

    I have always been a big fan of Sci Fi and so was my Father in law. He grew up in those halcyon days when radio was the mass drug of choice and your mind could imagine anything. He loved those old stories where we would all be living on Mars by now and driving flying cars.

    But he was also a scientist, of sorts, and he knew that Mars was a long, long way off. But the Moon, well, not so much. He knew it was possible, just as it is possible now. There's just no reason to go any more.

    It was a different world in the 1960s, if not really a better one.
    I was just watching I Dream of Jeannie, a show about a couple of dimwit Astronauts and a magical cutie one of them found in a bottle. Astronauts were heroic figures, now they are just long haul truck drives. Pretty boring long haul truckers at that.

    Space was a bust. Nasty weather out there, all that vacuum and death and all. Space is not a good place for people, and that is why it will always be the last frontier.

  18. @Angelika - It always perks me up when I see a comment from you and I know you have been here. :)

    But as for not reading the comments, you simply MUST! On every blog I have ever had, the comments are where the action is, not the post itself. Canucklehead of all people should know that.

    See... with me, the conversation is the thing; the post itself is sometimes almost incidental - a bone we toss to passersby to keep them off the track while we huddle down here in the basement, drink beer (and, in the case of Debbie and A., fine wine) and discuss how WE would run the world. Sometimes we ramble far into the night and get farther and farther from the subject of the post. And you are always welcome. You are.

  19. @Stephanie - I'm interested in Mars and I was one of those who couldn't get enough of the pictures. I'm glad to hear so many others still care too. :)

    It has always sort of amused me that Roswell, in the state I mostly live in, is mainly known for alien museums and extra-terrestrial festivals. Anything to fill the motels, I suppose. This, of course, based on the fabled UFO that landed in the desert near there in the late 1940s and of the alleged dead aliens recovered from the craft and spirited away by our military. Supposedly. Since then "autopsy photos" of the aliens, and the like, have surfaced, along with the original stories told by the ranchers that night. I am neither a believer or a disbeliever, but it has gotten sort of out of hand in Roswell.

    This has amused me because it has distracted from the fact that one of our greatest rocket scientists of all time, Robert Goddard, did a good deal of his experimental work at Roswell. You'd think they would pay more attention to that legacy than they do. But I guess bug-eyed alien caps sell better to the tourists. :)

  20. @Soubriquet - Speechless in admiration.

    @Canucklehead - I apologize for not being by lately. I hope you have been doing ok. I will make it up to you. Detroit Red Wings rule. (I was born in Michigan and we had so little to cheer about. (Same as today.)

    @Janet - We all have our phobias. I can't seem to deal with heights in open areas. I once was climbing a seemingly endless switch-back open outdoors stairway up to the top of a ranger fire lookout station in the forest near here once and near the top felt as if I were floating into space. Almost panicky - like James Stewart in "Veritgo". I experienced the same feeling driving US550 through Red Mountain Pass in Little Switzerland in Southern Colorado, between Durango and Silverton/Ouray, where the highway is right on the very edge of the cliff. You get the eerie feeling, again, of floating or flying off the ground into space. I had to grip the steering wheel with both hands and force myself to stare straight ahead and not look over the sheer edge.

    I could never be a rock climber like you. :)

  21. @Descartes - So good to see you again. I find myself more siding with your father, though. To me, space isn't a bust. To me, it is the epitome of what makes man different from giraffes: A desire - a NEED - to see what is around the next corner, over the next hill, or even beyond the next star. Not only to dream but to GO where no one has ever gone before. Perhaps even to return home. Who knows.

    With apologies to Gene Roddenberry.

    But I still sometimes dream of Jeannie too. :)

  22. Just for clarity.... I must point out the forthcoming moon-landing was not itself the reason I decided to carry on living, but rather, one of the things I thought of, a sense of the impending loss of all my tomorrows.

  23. Um...I am far too self absorbed to read other people's comments, LOL.

    The first step in recovery is to admit that you have a problem.

    Hi, I'm Angelika, and I am self absorbed.

  24. Not having got your drift at all, I will tell you about a postcard that did arrive today, from Russia (possibly with love, I don't know). On it were two stamps, one commemorating astronomy, the other the 75th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's birth. We didn't ever watch any space flights in school, but by popular vote we did name our mascot after Yuri Gagarin.

  25. @Soubriquet - I understand. But one good reason, I think. And we are also glad you did, by the way. :)

    @Angelika - I am near level 8. What were you saying?

    @Sheila - I understand completely. It would never have done in that era to have American heroes. :)

    Just so the rest our our readers know and remember: the great Yuri Gagarin was the first human to travel into space, the first human to orbit the earth. And, sadly, yet another example of an accidental death of a military pilot in an airplane.

  26. I think you'd struggle to find an American hero on a Russian stamp. Or do you mean the naming of the mascot? That was all down to timing. Later we did have a visiting American teacher who brought along a young member of the Air Force to meet us. We all duly swooned. (Girls school).



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