December 7th is remembered every year for the Japanese attach on Pearl Harbor and the United States being forced into World War II. While I think Pearl Harbor – and everything surrounding WWII – is something that should never leave the public consciousness, I will leave those remembrances to others this year, because I want to talk about another significant event from December 7th.

On December 7th, 1972, 40 years ago today, the last Moon rocket launched the Apollo 17 crew on their way to the Moon*. This anniversary is particularly interesting to me personally this year because I started my current job at NASA in 2009 and was here for the 40th anniversary celebrations of Apollo 11 and then later Apollo 13.

Scott's tie was much more era-appropriate

My friend and I in “costume” for the Apollo 11 40th Anniversary event on July 20, 2009

The 4 years I have worked my flight control job feels like a long time. I feel confident in my job and no longer feel like a newbie. A lot has happened in the ISS program and I am proud of many professional and personal milestones since the above picture was taken. But then again, the 3.5 years since July 2009 isn’t so long at all. I only recently received a “specialist” certification that gives me full responsibility in my flight controller job. If I imagine myself transported to a NASA flight controller job in the  1970s, I would barely have had enough time to build up expertise as an Apollo systems flight controller between the first and last lunar landings. July 1969 to December 1972. Wham bam thank you ma’am. No more humans on the moon.

I never met Neil Armstrong – although I had the privilege of seeing all of the Apollo 11 crew speak at the 40th anniversary celebration – but I did meet Eugene Cernan at a book signing once. Cernan was the Apollo 17 commander (and author of a very good space-age memoir, The Last Man On The Moon)**. Cernan even today at 78 years old he is an advocate for continued civil commitment to human spaceflight. He often testifies before congress and appears on TV (Fox News likes him). Despite his vocalness, I haven’t seen anything from Cernan about today’s anniversary. There have been no emails to JSC employees about an Apollo 17 anniversary celebration, no interviews with Cernan or other moonwalkers, and very little online discussion in general (CollectSpace and Universe Today articles are pretty minimal).

I think this is a sign of the times. We are in a “gap” as everyone likes to say. NASA is between domestic launch programs. Everyone is waiting to see who will have the next US launched human mission. In commercial space, a lot of optimism and a flurry of development activity during the aughts has left us still waiting for the first suborbital tourism flights (they’ve been 5 years away for 10 years). Optimism is sorely lacking, also due to a budgetary forecast for NASA that’s not stellar – to say nothing of “the fiscal cliff” everyone has been talking about. And yet, space bigwigs continue to find the energy to start new spacefight startups, the latest of which is Golden Spike: a commercial venture to fly multi-billion dollar missions to the moon and make a profit off of it. Their stated goal is to make their first manned flight of this campaign by 2020. So maybe they can be ready in time for the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 in July 2019? The optimist in me wants to hope that someone can – whether it is Golden Spike or not – and that maybe the excitement wont pass us by in 4 quick years and then again be lost to history. It would be a shame to make it back and be done again by 2022. Let’s go somewhere to stay.

*One more Saturn V (albeit with only two stages) was launched in 1973. We can reminisce about the long past glory of the Saturn V in May next year.

**Cernan is one of the 8 still living moonwalkers.

December 7, 2012 6:42 pm

One Response to “Anniversaries”

  • Jacob says:

    Humanity will figure it out. You’ll get a call to be flight controller, but they’ll probably require you to wear the Apollo 11 costume the entire time.

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