Friday, August 12, 2011
The Apollo missions spent a total of about 13 days on the moon, over a total of six missions to the surface. Not all this time was spent actually walking around on EVAs (extra-vehicular activities). Apollo 16 for example spent almost three days on the surface, with EVAs totaling about 20 hours.
With this, we see the claim that "we've already been to the moon" - true in a literal sense, but very untrue if used in the "we've seen pretty much all there is to see" sense.
So let's compare this to the size of a few other countries. First of all the United States:
The moon is four times larger than the US. Imagine spending three days in the US in 1970, two days inside your hotel and one day outside. Have you seen enough that you don't need to go back once over the next 40+ years?
And some other countries:
Russia - the moon is 2.2 times larger. That's like seeing Russia for 6 days, two days outside the hotel.
Australia - the moon is 5 times larger. A trip to Australia for 2.6 days, almost one day outside the hotel.
England - the moon is 291 times larger. Imagine a trip to England for 1.07 hours, 20 minutes outside. Did you get to see much of the country?
Finally let's go with Hawaii. The moon is 3640 times larger than Hawaii, so the amount of manned exploration we've done on the moon is equivalent to seeing Hawaii for five minutes, two minutes outside.
So what about the argument that in spite of all this the moon is boring and bereft of surprises? To that one simply needs to look back over the past few years to show what we now know about the moon that we didn't know just five years ago.
- The moon has water in the soil, thought to be unlikely to impossible before. Finally confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt in 2009.
- There is definitely ice and water in the permanently shadowed craters. Suspected for a while, this was confirmed by LCROSS after its mission near the end of 2009.
- The moon has a volcano. News from just last month.
- The moon might have had a little brother for quite some time that eventually impacted it. A new theory that would explain why one side of the moon is so different from the other.
And then of course there is the giant impact hypothesis, our best explanation of how we got the moon in the first place. This theory was not very well supported back when we were walking on the moon, and our new perspective on the moon shows it to be an integral part of understanding our own history too.