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  • Glenn Sonnenberg

Musings from the Bunker 4/5/21

Good morning! I hope everyone is as excited as I over the recent news that the Space Launch System (the rocket that will return successfully completed the “hot fire” test of its engines last week. That eight minute blast confirms that the rocket, which will carry the Orion space capsules to the moon in 2022 and 2023 is “seaworthy.” THE LONG WAIT It has been a long time since man landed on the moon. Project Artemis promises to be the first manned landings since Apollo 17 in 1972—a spread of nearly a half century. This project is supposed to be the start of a longer-term lunar presence and a precursor of the Mars project. Since Apollo, the only manned missions have been to the International Space Station in low-Earth orbit 200 miles up. Needless to say, the 240,000 mile journey to the Moon is just a little more complex and significant. PROJECT ARTEMIS Three missions of the new program are scheduled in the next few years. Artemis 1 will be unmanned and will orbit the Moon in 2022. Currently scheduled for August 2023 is Artemis 2, a lunar fly-by, with Artemis 3 carrying the first woman to step on the moon in 2024, Orion capsule carrying men and women will first circle the Moon and later land. WHEN WE WERE KIDS AND LOOKED SKYWARD Further attempting to solidify my standing in the Nerd Hall of Fame, I was a total space exploration junkie. I knew every Viking and Mariner spacecraft, of course, but the gold standard was the manned space program. From the Mercury Seven to the Next Nine, through the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs, I felt I knew the astronauts personally I was transfixed by the TV launches, spacewalks and recoveries at sea. I even managed to sucker NASA into believing that I was the President of a local science journalism organization to receive their regular briefings and publications. Back in the 60s and 70s, the space program was the thing. And if the real thing wasn’t enough, there were ample options on TV and the silver screen. Star Trek was, of course, the main focus of the late-60s, with 2001 and other classics to follow. Then in 1977 Star Wars hit the screen, but after the Space Age of our youth had come to an end. WAS IT WORTH IT? WILL IT BE WORTH IT? Detractors of the space program will point to the invention of Tang as the singular accomplishment of a quest to go nowhere. Believers will point out to the accelerated development of technological advances, medical research, development of drugs, water purification systems, studies of muscle and bone atrophy, studying the Earth’s climate, and on and on. When our kids were younger, the Mars Explorer mission capitivated us. It is my hope that the Moon missions will entertain, challenge, educate, and excite another generation of kids. More importantly, the missions will reach into households and perhaps convince another generation to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. THE MOVIES And of course there are the great movies about the space program. I’m limiting this list to stories about the history of the U.S. exploration of space or the imagining of travel to Mars. Star Trek, 2001, Star Wars, and other adventures not included.

  • The Right Stuff. The story of the test pilots and the early days of Mercury. A great translation of the origin story of NASA and America’s space program, from the book by Tom Wolfe. Epic (both the movie and the book).

  • Apollo 13. Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon and Bill Paxon as the astronauts, with Ed Harris as Gene Krantz, and excitement you can cut with a knife. This Ron Howard rendition of this seminal event is fantastic.

  • Capricorn One. The moon landing wasn’t real; all staged. Perfect for our current era of conspiracy

  • First Man. The story of Neil Armstrong, based upon the book. Shows a human side to the inscrutable first man on the moon.

  • Hidden Figures. Not really about the conquering of outer space, but of the mathematicians who made it happen.

  • Gravity. George Clooney and Sandra Bullock. Repairing the Hubble telescope

  • October Sky. Even a geek from West Virginia can contribute to the space program.

  • Away. The first mission to Mars

  • The Martian. Okay, I have a crush on Matt Damon but still, this is a great rendition of Andy Weir’s great book of the same name.

When Artemis flies, I’ll be watching. Best, Glenn

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