Wednesday, 8 July 2009


It's a popular subject just now.  Not the credit crunch or Michael Jackson.  No, the subject I'm talking about is the Moon.

Selene is the Greek goddess of the Moon, and was also the name adopted by Japan for a moon-probe launched in 2007, which relayed the first high definition photographs back to Earth (just Google; Japan, Selene, moon probe).

When Neil Armstrong first set foot onto the surface on 20 July 1969 I was only six years old, but my parents insisted in getting me out of bed to watch.  Apparently after the event I rubbed my eyes and asked to go back to bed!

On the Isle of Lewis there is a set of standing stones dating back five thousand years called the Stones of Callanish, and it is widely accepted that they are an ancient lunar calendar.  To think that man would have looked to the heavens at the Moon all that time ago, not knowing that one day we would walk on its surface!  Many cultures have worshiped the moon around the world over the centuries, and little do many of us realise that without it, life on earth would not exist.  With the world in trouble over it's climate this is another reminder of just how delicate the balance is for life to exist at all.

I was very lucky in March 2006 to be in Turkey to witness a total solar eclipse.  At the moment the moon passed across the sun, and its shadow raced across the sea to where I was standing like a dark tidal wave from the underworld, my breath was taken away.  To say I had tears in my eyes is only a fraction of the emotion I felt.  The statistics of the moon are surprising as well; the moon is four hundred times closer to us than the sun and is a 400th the size of the sun.  Any closer or further away and life would be very different indeed.  These two facts combine to make the solar eclipse the spectacular event that it is.  Only at that exact moment did I realise what this must have meant to civilisations in ancient times.  It truly had the feeling of the end of the world.

Just one hundred years ago we were still earth bound.  Now we have aircraft that can take us to the other side of the world in less than a day, spacecraft that can leave the planet altogether, and a space station that goes round the earth in ninety four minutes!

And we take it for granted!  We're not impressed anymore.  I find this amazing.  The same happened during the Apollo programme.  The public grew bored of the project, until, that is, the 13 April 1970 when James Lovell, the commander of Apollo 13, said those immortal words; "Houston, we have a problem".  The public then took an interest again.  The same could be said about the shuttle.  Until the disaster of Challenger and more recently,  Columbia, the press had relegated the news of the shuttle missions to a match-box-size article.

But I continue to be amazed, and that talk continues of not just going to the moon, but now establishing a base there and eventually going to Mars.  What an amazing species we are.

And yet, we continue to kill each other, to find importance in the most trivial of things, and to consume at an ever increasing rate.  Yes, we really are a remarkable species.

I am proud of our achievements of course, and the beauty of the images from space.  But I don't need them to show me just how beautiful this planet of ours is.  Every day, rain or shine, I see the beauty in our surroundings, I hear the bird song and marvel at the lush growth of nature everywhere.  All this without any intervention by man.  And it will be here long after we've gone.

We'll continue to explore, be that Mars or the cosmos at large.  But one thing will remain constant.  This is our only home. 

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