11 Out of this World.

 I realized that the molecules of my body, and the molecules of the spacecraft, the molecules in the body of my partners, were prototyped, manufactured in some ancient generation of stars. And that was an overwhelming sense of oneness, of connectedness; it wasn’t ‘Them and Us’, it was ‘That’s me!’, that’s all of it, it’s… it’s one thing. And it was accompanied by an ecstacy, a sense of ‘Oh my God, wow, yes’, an insight, an epiphany.’

                     Edgar Mitchell on returning from the Moon.

I was awed and amazed by those pioneering ace high expeditions being undertaken into space by astronauts and cosmonauts.

This ‘final frontier’ beckoned to the explorer in me and was a launching pad for my interest in cosmology. As a child I had wondered which side in the space race had the best German scientists. In the sixties the race was on the front page of the papers and I relished reading about it. My childhood stories were coming true and gave rise to much reflection.

Gordon Cooper and Charles ‘Pete’ Conrad Junior greatly appreciated the vigil I maintained during their Gemini 5 flight.I told them their journey was  crucial and carried us into tomorrow.

These sailors of the sky  slipped the surly bonds of Earth and orbited it 120 times over eight days in August 1965. Gemini 5 was the first spacecraft with fuelcells, devices that produced electricity from the chemical reaction between a fuel and oxygen. The flight gave high hopes, proving that men could live in a weightless state for the length of a trip to the moon.

Gordon Cooper was the first person to make two orbital space flights.

On May 15-16, he circled the earth 22 times in the Mercury program spacecraft, Faith 7.  During this flight, he released a 10 pound flashing beacon to test how far away he could see it. He estimated that he could see the light as far away as 17 miles. This experiment provided information for astronauts whose spacecraft carried out rendezvous in space.

Pete Conrad would go on to command the Apollo 12 mission that made the second manned landing on the moon. He and Alan Bean landed in their lunar module, Intrepid,  on the  Ocean of Storms On November 19, 1969 —after a flight of 250,000 miles and a launch that included a harrowing lightning strike. They stayed for 31 hours while their friend Richard Gordon remained in lunar orbit, photographing landing sites for future missions.

The crew of Apollo 12. L-R:  Charles “Pete” Conrad,  Richard Gordon, and Alan Bean.

It feels just like it was yesterday following these missions: sitting on the carpet before the terrestrial television set, legs crossed, glued to the flickering black-and-white images, following every detail: the launch with the crackling of the ignition flames, the incredibly violent shaking, vibrating and rumbling, looking through the window back at earth as it’s horizon slowly curved around in upon itself  and then to see the full circle of this fragile jewel hung up in the blackness of space, it’s snow and clouds  pure white looking through the window back at earth as it’s horizon slowly curved around in upon itself  and then to see the full circle of this fragile jewel hung up in the blackness of space, it’s snow and clouds  pure white, it’s oceans crystal blue, it’s  land brown ; the injection into the lunar trajectory, the descent to the moon’s dusty surface– the scientific explorers in bulky white spacesuits lowering their feet to a new terra firma. I knew that I had seen something few humans in all history would ever directly experience – the earliest footprints on a world beyond our own.

Alan Bean described the sensation upon landing: ‘When you land on the moon and you stop and get out, nobody’s out there. This little LEM and then the two of you on this whole big place, you’re it, and that’s a weird feeling.’  What struck them was the vivid contrast between this celestial desert and the black sky.

Then followed their slow-motion dance- hopping up and down on the lunar surface, skipping, and even driving across the terrain of our nearest neighbour in the sky. Alas I didn’t get to see Pete dance. Since the television camera gave out, there’s virtually no footage of Conrad and Bean on the moon.

Otherwise it was a dream mission. ‘Pete Conrad Has a Fun Trip to the Moon read the headline.” No astronaut enjoyed his flight to the moon as much as Pete did. He was almost like a child on Christmas Day, and his companions had a pretty good time too.

And productive too. Conrad and Bean set up scientific instruments and collected rock and soil samples. They also removed parts from Surveyor III, an unmanned spacecraft that had landed on the moon in April 1967.

Alan Bean spoke of how their exploration had allowed him to put life into perspective and appreciate it more  :” I feel blessed every single day. Not a day goes by that I don’t think this is great. This was wonderful. I have not complained about the weather one single time. I’m glad there is weather. I’ve not complained about traffic. I’m glad there are people around. One of the things that I did when I got home – I went down to shopping centers, and I’d just go around there, get an ice cream cone or something, just watch the people go by, and think: “Boy, we’re lucky to be here. Why do people complain about the Earth? We are living in the garden of Eden.

The Meaning of Life.

I think I am, therefore, I am… I think.

                 George Carlin

Existentialist thinkers argue that humanity has to resign itself to recognizing that since a fully satisfying rational explanation of the universe is beyond our reach, the world must ultimately be seen as absurd. While I believe that the universe is a chance event, I believe that through science we are approaching as night follows day a more satisfying rational explanation for it – although it is an elusive quest, I believe existence is as meaningful as you make it.

The existentialist’s ability to portray the inner world should complement this knowledge rather than compete with it. Subjectively I feel very much like Beckett’s woman up to her neck in it, but objectively I know that death is a necessary event.

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