Friday, May 28, 2010
This is what we knew about the Moon in 1958:
A CLOSE-UP OF THE MOONWhere does this come from? From here, containing a scan of a statement prepared by the president's science advisory committee at the time for public consumption, price 15 cents. At the time, mankind had as yet only launched a grand total of four satellites - Sputnik 1 and 2, Explorer 1, and Vanguard-1. The first spacecraft to the Moon (the Soviet Luna 1) would happen ten months from then.
While these satellite observations are in progress, other rockets will be striking out for the moon with other kinds of instruments. Photographs of the back or hidden side of the moon may prove quite unexiting, or they may reveal some spectacular new feature now unguessed. Of greater scientific interest is the question whether or not the moon has a magnetic field. Since no one knows for sure why the earth has such a field, the presence or absence of one on the moon should throw some light on the mystery.
But what scientists would most like to learn from a close-up study of the moon is somehing of its origin and history. Was it originally molten? Does it now have a fluid core, similar to the earth's? And just what is the nature of the lunar surface? The answer to these and many other questions should shed light, directly or indirectly, on the origin and history of the earth and the surrounding solar system.
While the moon is believed to be devoid of life, even the simplest and most primitive, this cannot be taken for granted. Some scientists have suggested that small particles with the properties of life -- germs or spores -- could exist in space and could have drifted on to the moon. If we are to test this intriguing hypothesis we must be careful not to contaminate the moon's surface, in the biological sense, beforehand. There are strong scientific reasons, too, for avoiding radioactive contamination of the moon until its naturally acquired radioactivity can be measured.