When Is the Moon Not the Moon?

W.J. Astore

Last night, I got outside with my camera and took this shot of the moon.

It reminded me of one of my “genius” moments as a kid. In the playground, I recall looking up at the moon in the daytime. What is that thing, I asked myself. See, I associated the moon with the nighttime sky; I didn’t know it came out in the daytime as well. So what was that strange object in the daytime sky? Tapping into my little kid brain, I guessed I was seeing a reflection of the earth.

I don’t know when I got sorted out on this. Maybe my older brother, the amateur astronomer with the Tasco telescope, straightened me out. Still, given the way things are going on this earth of ours, we could use a smaller earth close by to escape to. I had one as a kid, if only in my imagination.

I’m still amazed that we went to the moon in 1969, more than a half century ago, and we haven’t gone further into space since. Sure, our probes have, and remarkably so, but I’m astonished that humans haven’t yet been to Mars, a difficult but achievable mission. In “2001: A Space Odyssey,” humanity was already visiting Jupiter and witnessing the birth of the star-child twenty years ago! Obviously, 2001 should have been 2101. Maybe in 80 years we’ll visit the outer planets, assuming we haven’t nuked ourselves back to the Stone Age.

For some reason, I was thinking of the movie “Planet of the Apes” yesterday and its jaw-dropping ending. In the U.S., we seem far more intent on building new nukes than exploring space. We have a mania for destruction, a mania for weapons and wars, thus the ending words of Charlton Heston in that movie were and remain all too appropriate and haunting.

I wish we had a shadow earth, an unspoiled one sitting in the sky, shining down on kids in playgrounds across the world. But we don’t, so we had better wise up and take better care of this one. Unless you want Charlton Heston cursing you out.

18 thoughts on “When Is the Moon Not the Moon?

  1. Not to burst your bubble or rain on your parade or take a dump on your enthusiasms or anything, but the distances involved in interplanetary and interstellar travel make it the stuff of science fiction — emphasis on fiction. We don’t fathom millions, billions, or trillions of dollars well (all now just illions). Try lightyears. Space travel (and inevitably, star wars) is fun to think about and contemplate, no doubt, especially the highly entertaining novels and movies and comics, but the scale of these yawning distances is just too great. That’s what science fiction is always inventing make-believe technology (warp engines, star gates, folding space, etc.) to overcome the emptiness. Add to that the difficulty of maintaining a microhabitat for humans, who lose muscle mass and degrade even after a short time when in low- or no-gravity environments to which we’re not adapted. We can’t even establish permanent underwater living spaces with supply from land; the vacuum of space is even more daunting. Plus, all of the nearby bodies (think in terms of cosmic scale) appear to be lifeless. We’d probably need to go much farther afield to find life (intelligent or not) statistical models guarantee must be out there in the galaxy/universe.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yes, interstellar travel is impractical without something like “hyperdrive” or “warp drive,” and of course Einstein’s theory of relativity is almost always overridden or ignored.

      Still, human exploration of our solar system is possible, with Mars a worthy target.

      America may spend as much as $2 trillion on nuclear weapons “modernization” in the next few decades. The NASA budget, by comparison, is miniscule. While I’d rather spend most of this money cleaning up the earth, I wouldn’t mind roughly 10% going to an international mission to Mars. A Chinese/Russian/ American crew heading to Mars might be just the thing to bring our countries together.


  2. I agree that shared missions among the U.S., Russia, and China would be the best possible alternative to the current rivalry. However, there’s enough to do on Earth to mitigate climate change, preserve ecosystems, ameliorate poverty, curb population growth, and discover ways to limit human impact on nature, among a dozen other critical issues, to keep international teams busy for decades, perhaps a century.

    I don’t see a rationale for a human presence in space for the foreseeable future, unless it would perhaps be to mine any useful minerals on the Moon decades hence.

    If we can use probes to study Mars, for instance, where’s the justification for spending untold trillions to create an artificial habitat and send humans there? Sorry, but I just don’t see it, Bill. If somehow sanity broke out in government (a true sci-fi scenario!), the only use for the excess hundreds of billions cut from the Defense budget should be to help ALL the inhabitants of Earth, be they any type of flora or fauna, and make sure they have a future. Once that’s accomplished, then we could indulge in extras such as space exploration. Needless to say, I take a very dim view of Bezos’, Musk’s, and Branson’s atmospheric ambitions and boondoggles.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, humans in space are expensive — there’s no getting away from that.

      I’m not for using “untold trillions” to send humans into space to establish permanent bases. But I am for continued space exploration, including a mission to Mars, with the costs shared by the USA, China, and Russia.

      Picture two Chinese astronauts joining two American ones and a Russian on a mission to Mars. See them working together for the sake of science and exploration.

      I think such a mission would have huge symbolic importance. And I think its costs would be far less than what America plans to spend merely on upgrading nuclear weapons.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. No arguing that shared missions would be not only symbolic, but uniting. I just think that Earth should be the venue until terrestrial problems have been resolved. Until then, let science and exploration be done by robots that don’t require vastly expensive Earth-like conditions to provide results.

    At most, why could international teams not continue to work together using the International Space Station? Could its capabilities be expanded at much less expense than seeing manned missions to Mars?


    1. Agree with the ISS, but it doesn’t capture the imagination. It’s become humdrum.

      Will our terrestrial problems ever be resolved?

      I think an international mission to Mars, done right, with costs kept under control, could truly be inspiring, maybe even a game-changer. It might even keep some aerospace corporations happy enough so that they don’t keep lobbying for more bombers, nukes, etc. Now that last part is a real dream. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The idea that space exploration or fixing our terrestrial woes is an either/or question is utterly ludicrous. NASA’s budget is a little under $25 billion at present. In the average year Americans alone spend some $80 billion on cigarettes. At the absolute peak of NASA spending in 1965 the budget was $34 billion in today’s dollars.

        Arthur C. Clarke pointed out that (with the exception of the aliens, monoliths and HAL’s A.I.) everything you see in 2001 could have been accomplished in reality for less than was spent by the US on the Vietnam War.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I think it is time, not space, that defies our comprehension. We can conceptualize space when like you and your brother we look through a telescope, but deep time is beyond us.

    The best way to consider this is to realize that according to what science tells us to date, all that we can see in the night sky and much much more started out in close proximity. We know there are galaxies that are billions of light-years away and while that distance is certainly hard to grasp, what is impossible to grasp is all the time it took for those galaxies to get that far away from us.

    I like to look at common rocks, the granitic kind you might see someone using to protect their driveway, and consider the life span of those rocks, not uncommonly millions of years going back to when it was part of a mass of rock and now the “possession” of a creature gone in less than 100 years. Not only is it bemusing to consider that long history, but also to think about where it will be long after the driveway and all that is around it is lost to memory…when it will still be sitting in an environment beyond our recognition.

    As for space exploration, robots, robots and more robots. It is our intelligence that they represent. It is what is most advanced in us, what has brought us to the state of understanding we have, that feeds on exploration and needs no life support. That’s what we want to go exploring with not burdened with our fragile bodies and unpredictable interpersonal relationships that are nothing but an impediment to our quest to know.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I love robots too. Way back to the Mariner, Pioneer, and Voyager probes.

      But I’m also all for humans in space, as long as the human program doesn’t starve funds for exploration by probes.

      The new space telescope should really revolutionize our knowledge of space, and, in a way, perhaps of time as well. A telescope is a time machine; we peer back into the past, seeing what happened millions of light years ago.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Replying to Clif9710, time and space are interrelated in physics, thus space-time. Conceptually, other dimensions beyond our perception cut across those we do perceive. So your comment amplifies the difficulty of truly understanding epic expanses of time and/or space rather than correcting it. I wrote a blog post years ago called Darkened Skies that discusses briefly the island universe concept, when in or across deep time the skies go dark because the expanding universe moves stars and galaxies beyond the event horizon that enables light to be visible. It’s heady stuff even for the layperson.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I was going to add comments about the physics of time, speed and gravity when I realized there are actually two themes to your essay about the moon. The first is about how people, not just children, can be looking at something that they are familiar with, but do not recognize it because it is in a different circumstance. The second is about space travel, especially to Mars, which is way over due.

    I am more fascinated with the first theme because it is the more difficult to deal with than the physics of time, space and gravity, and also this is more of a political site than a science site.

    It seems that lately ( the last 4 years ) people have been looking at the disintegration of our country and not recognizing that we are descending into chaos just as many great civilizations have done. One may say that we are in a soft civil war. I feel this very much in that I do not know who I am talking to anymore when I begin a conversation. Are they a Trumper, a Q-anoner, a pro-choicer or pro-lifer, an anit-vaxer, etc. The threats, hints, and now cartoons of violence are all around us, sending not so subliminal messages to kill, kidnap, or terrorize those who do not agree with ‘our’ group’s ideas. Gun sales have been higher in the last 2 years than ever before. I could go on, but I’m sure all of you see the signs of this civil war around us.

    A civil war is when the citizens of a country war against each other. America has had two civil wars, The American Revolution and the ‘Civil War’. Both were among the most vicious and deadly in our history ( 1% of the population in the first and 2% in the second war ).

    Americans are looking at fascism, dictatorship, and all that those imply, yet do not see these because “It Can’t Happen Here” ( The book by Sinclair Lewis is still relevant ).

    It alarms me that the citizenry is not only watching this, but actually encouraging it. It’s like watching someone spin the cylinder of a revolver with a live round in it, putting it to their head and saying “It Can’t Happen to Me” as they pull the trigger.

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    1. Wow! Have you nailed it, WJ! I was reading an article about the ground-zero site of the whole ongoing school board controversy, and I thought how insane it all is, parents physically attacking one another over curricula, showing up at board members’ houses, waving rifles, leaving screaming death threats on answering machines. People getting up at rallies in red states, asking in all seriousness when it will be OK to start shooting liberals. People “suspecting” other people of burglaries and chasing and killing them. It just goes on and on. We truly are in an undeclared civil war.


    2. I’m so glad you developed my theme of perception and how preconceived notions can shape, even determine, what we see and perceive.

      I differ somewhat from your analysis. I see us in a hard civil war between the rich and powerful versus everyone else, and the rich and powerful are clearly winning. Meanwhile, most Americans agree on what we want, e.g. higher minimum wage, affordable health care, etc., which the rich and powerful are determined not to give us.

      We are kept distracted and divided by the culture wars, which have little to do with the class war that the rich and powerful are so clearly winning.

      The question is: Are we going to persist in fighting culture wars, dissipating our power (what little we have), or are we going to come together and force the rich and powerful to share more of America’s great wealth to the people? Put differently, how much can the latter rob from us before the rest finally get restless and do something? And, once we do something, can we focus on the true problems, or will we be at each other’s throats over non-issues like gender pronouns, critical race theory, and whether boys are being emasculated by too many video games and too much porn? (The latter is a current Republican canard.)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Agree about the class war, Bill, and it gets more ruthless every day.

        I think the culture wars are just as critical, though. Half the country is willing to vote against its own interests, in the face of all logic, just to push the agenda of GOP (i.e., TFG) power. There’s no reasoning with people who think that Biden lost the election, that Dems are cannibalistic pedophiles, and any number of other patently false talking points. There’s simply no common ground between two sets of people,one of which lives in the real world, the other of which has descended into paranoid delusion. You could say that the rightwingers would certainly make common cause with those who are trying to feed the hungry, provide healthcare, mitigate the wildfires, floods, and droughts, and so on, but their hostility against “the libs” might very well prove an unbridgeable chasm.


    3. In reply to wjscott2 (November 15, 2021 at 4:06 PM):

      “In the long run, a hierarchical society was only possible on a basis of poverty and ignorance.” — George Orwell, 1984

      Seizure Class Frantic Fear-Flogging
      (in the “Shakespearean” sonnet style)

      The “Orientals” did that Russian/Chinese thing:
      The wrong we did ourselves but won’t admit
      But must project upon a villain: Ming
      The Merciless, a comic tyrant fit
      To terrify and titillate the tame
      American so easily disturbed
      By entertainment ludicrous and lame
      Designed to leave The System unperturbed
      By movements from the “Left” or “down below”
      Fomented by those “unsuccessful” proles:
      Contagious strikes which tend to spread and grow
      Among exploited and resentful souls
      Who’ve heard of freedom and wish to employ it
      Against their rulers who, alone, enjoy it.

      Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2021

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m into Science not Politics (like this Site.,) but I feel also the need to comment. Of the 11 Apollo missions: 6 were successful in landing on Luna. 2 Orbiting Luna, and 2 Earth Orbiting. One malfunction and lost moon Apollo 13, and one Launch Pad Fire Apollo 1. Now lets reach the Red Planet soon, hopeful in our lifetimes. We’re humans its what we do we explore…!


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