Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Lunar Ponderings

A stunning anniversary just passed: 50 years since Apollo 11. We have 6 more Apollo lunar anniversaries to go, (7 overall in this program if one counts the non-lunar Apollo-Soyuz Test Project). For years, I've tracked statistics of Apollo missions and astronauts as they aged. And each time I have to update my records, the solemnity of the loss halts all activity in my brain.

On December 19, 1972, upon the splashdown return of Apollo 17, there were 12 men on planet Earth who knew what it was like to walk on the surface of our Moon. This fact remained true for true for 18 years and 7 months.

Then, in August 1991, James Irwin (Apollo 15) died of a heart attack at age 61.

In 1998, Alan Shepard (Apollo 14) died of leukemia at age 74.

In 1999, Pete Conrad (Apollo 12) was killed in a motorcycle crash at age 69.

In 2012, Neil Armstrong (Apollo 11) died of heart failure at age 82.

In 2016, Ed Mitchell (Apollo 14) died in his sleep at age 85.

In 2017, Gene Cernan (Apollo 10 and 17) died of long-term illness at age 82 and Dick Gordon (Apollo 12) died of cancer at age 88.

In 2018, John Young (Apollo 10 and 16) died of pneumonia at age 978, and Alan Bean (Apollo 12) died of sudden illness at age 86.

Today, as we approach more 50th anniversaries of lunar landings, there are just 4 men left who remember traveling to and working on the Moon.

  • Buzz Aldrin turns 90 years old in January 2020.
  • David Scott is 87. 
  • Jack Schmitt and Charles Duke are both 84.
Among the other Apollo (orbiting or CSM pilot) astronauts, all are now octogenerians, with youngest Ken Mattingly reaching the age of 84.

Even if the youngest of them make it in to their 90s or to 100, will they see another Moon mission? Will they watch astronauts who are American or Chinese? Male or female?  Will it be just as inspiring to the world?

L to R: Charlie Duke (Apollo 16), Buzz Aldrin (11), Walter Cunningham (7), Alfred Worden (15), Rusty Schweickart (9), [Harrison] Jack Schmitt (17), Michael Collins (11), and Fred Haise (13).
PHOTO CREDIT: Felix Kunze/The Explorers Club

Some think we could pull off a Moon mission by 2024, though with how administrations roll (I've seriously been watching various plans and cancellations across my entire lifespan now), it will be more like 2027.
  • At that point, Buzz Aldrin will be 97. 
  • David Scott will be 94. 
  • Jack Schmitt and Charles Duke will be 91. 
  • Every living Apollo astronaut will be a nonagenarian. 
I wonder, will they make it? Statistically, the deaths in this tiny club are accelerating, and we can expect to lose a few more before we see a return to the lunar surface, given that even the best technological developments never seem to last past early stages. Anything could suffer cancellation again, in favor of Mars, Asteroids, or on the altar of war, economic depression, or unforseen disaster.

So, when we return to the Moon, if we return to the Moon, will anyone alive personally remember what it was like to visit the Moon?

Something to ponder.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Pillownaut Muse

After my follow-up DEXA Bone Scan last winter, and the nice article NASA's Human Research Program published about me and other past pillownauts in preparation for the new simulation protocols, I didn't expect much more to happen. It's been many years since my studies, and my blog is now only rarely updated.

I pondered perhaps "over-hauling" this site to be a #SciComm hub -- but honestly, I think there are so many great existing Science Communication sites, and I will work to amplify those. I figured I'd had my 15 minutes of fame, and decided to leave my old blog "as-is" as a historical record of how I lived through the unique experiences of Space Flight Simulations projects at NASA.

But. Every time I think I'll never hear about it again, another author or press outlet comes knocking. Last time it was Charles Wohlforth, and you should definitely still read his great book, "Beyond Earth: Our Path To a New Home in the Planet." My father was very impressed they devoted more space to me than to Neil Armstrong, so we may have to put that on my tombstone.

Along came Minute Number 16...


Muse Magazine asked to feature my studies and chose the same title, just spelled a bit differently! In "Beyawned Earth," writer Jen Mason compiled many of my past blog excerpts, a few older press turns, and many of my personal photographs from quarantine into an exceptional article designed to teach students about space flight and how it affects the "biological packages" that travel in spacecrafts.

Reading the finished product, I was definitely the happiest I've ever been with an interview. I've had TV and radio stations ask me exhaustingly inappropriate questions; sometimes even reputable outlets go for the sensationalist spin by giving the study clever little [incorrect] nicknames or dwelling on incidental details, like how we manage to shower during simulations, or that we cannot have sugar or caffeine or salt in quarantine. Sure, those things are challenging, but not life-threatening. They pale in the quest for good data.


However, MUSE Magazine hired a skilled and serious writer who truly nailed the science. After literally a decade of interviews in varied formats, and even being featured on the NASA website itself, this was really the first full-length article that revolved around MY OWN WORDS REGARDING MY OWN EXPERIENCES. This is the closest article to what I would have written myself. Maybe someday, some outlet will invite me to do so. Hope springs eternal.

I was gratified that this particular entity put the science in detailed and accurate terms, because it's directed at students and young adults potentially getting started in scholastic concentrations, and beginning to think about choosing majors.

Issue came out in March, and I was thrilled to receive copies by May, after I returned from my 6-week trek in Europe. You can order back issues of Muse Magazine yourself, or subscribe your teens, at Cricket Media.

My entire list of articles has been updated to include the last 2 years.