Drifting Away

No one knows where our moon came from.

Most astronomers and astrophysicists believe that a “protoplanet” collided with Earth around 4.5 billion years ago, leaving a chunk of itself behind.

The skeptics of that theory say, ‘no way! They argue that the Earth would have suffered too much damage from such a collision and could never have survived the impact. What they claim makes more sense is that the moon is simply an asteroid that got stuck in the Earth’s gravitational web and couldn’t get away.

Well, couldn’t get away…quickly.

The moon IS leaving us, going back to who knows where, drifting off at about a half an inch every day. At that pace, it will a take a while before it’s out of our sight, but eventually, the moon will be on its own and we Earthlings will be empty-nesters.

Last week, Marina Koren, the science writer for The Atlantic penned a story about the moon’s slow and steady exit that was later picked up by publications around the world. It was surprising to see how distraught so many were over the article. After all, Marina wasn’t breaking any news. Scientists have been aware of the growing distance between the Earth and the moon since 1848. But writing about it now seemed to strike a nerve. Maybe we’ve hit a breaking point. After everything else we’ve lost over the past eighteen months, the thought of losing the moon, too was probably more than most could handle.

*

When President John F. Kennedy said in 1962, ‘We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard’ he was being an optimist. He wasn’t naive or pollyannaish about the challenges that would have to be overcome in order for the project to succeed. In fact, he referred to them later in that same speech:

But if I were to say, my fellow citizens, that we shall send to the moon, 240,000 miles away from the control station in Houston, a giant rocket more than 300 feet tall, the length of this football field, made of new metal alloys, some of which have not yet been invented, capable of standing heat and stresses several times more than have ever been experienced, fitted together with a precision better than the finest watch, carrying all the equipment needed for propulsion, guidance, control, communications, food and survival, on an untried mission, to an unknown celestial body, and then return it safely to earth…and do all this, and do it right, and do it first before this decade is out — then we must be bold.

Kennedy wasn’t just talking about doing something that had never been done before. He was suggesting the creation of things that didn’t yet exist. He had to ignore both the skeptics who wanted to calculate the improbability of the mission and the critics who questioned the need.

At the time, C.S. Lewis, the acclaimed author and lay theologian adamantly opposed space travel on philosophical grounds claiming that the separation of Heaven and Earth needed to be maintained and that man had no right to enter God’s domain until called. That argument sounds silly today after six decades of exploring the Universe. But the attitude — that we should put restrictions on our curiosity, have limits on our knowledge, and preserve the consistency of the status quo — persists. It is the type of thinking that surrounds us today; stifling growth, discouraging change, and making progress virtually impossible. It is also what gives root to racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, xenophobia, anything and everything that doesn’t align with a particular dogma, doctrine, tradition, or belief that is set firmly in the past.

*

Nostalgia— the sentimental affection and wistful attachment we have to history — may seem like a harmless mental exercise. But the consequences that come from romanticizing the past and selectively editing our memories are profound and fraught with risk. So many people today are allowing nostalgia to cloud their thinking. They reminisce about the good old days, want things to be great again, and can’t wait to return to normal. They are effusive about a previous era that never existed and look to restore a world that was never real; one constructed by their imagination. They look to myths and ideology to guide them, believing that everything important that was knowable has already been discovered, and is enshrined in authoritative sources such as ancient writings, historical documents, cultural principles, organizational practices, and established customs. The nostalgic thinkers are so enamored with the past that they become pessimistic and incurious about the future.

Sixty years ago the moon was our source of joy, excitement, intrigue, and adventure. We lusted after it, wrote songs and poetry about it, and relentlessly pursued it. Today, it is barely an afterthought. Mars is now the relationship we crave and the object in space that gets all of our affection. But that’s OK. Falling in love with Mars would not have been possible without first learning about love from the Moon.

It’s the way life works. Or should. We can take our experiences and build upon them. Expand our understanding. Correct our mistakes. Change our direction. Be curious about what is ahead and not try to relive what we left behind.

*

The moon is leaving us. We should say our goodbyes, thank it for everything it taught us, then take those lessons and look forward to our next magnificent adventure. And not look back.

Unwrapping the mystery of connections.

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James Kane

James Kane

Unwrapping the mystery of connections.

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