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Inward Bound

July 1st, 2006 2 comments

Apollo 17 Landing Site Panorama

“It means nothing to me. I have no opinion about it, and I don’t care.”

–Pablo Picasso

(July 21, 1969, in the New York Times on the occasion of the first lunar landing by the astronauts of Apollo 11.)

“Now, let’s get off. Forget the camera. [Garbled]…” are among Eugene Cernan’s last words spoken on the moon. (In Apollo 7 astronaut Walter Cunningham’s 2003 book The All-American Boys, Cernan’s last words on the Moon are reported to be the far more colorful, “Let’s get this mother out of here!”)

The 1972 splashdown of Apollo 17 marked the end of the last manned foray into deep space. The space age recordings and artifacts — We came in peace for all mankind! — uttered in a swell of self-conscious foresight now touch millions as quaint samples on dance and techno records. “We have loss of signal”, “Apollo 8, You are go.”

The horizons have moved both outward and inward in thirty four intervening years. Robot emissaries have filtered through the solar system. There exists a photograph of a crescent Neptune.

1976: the Viking probes landed on Mars, and photographed stunning panoramic views while their orbiting mother ships circled the planet. The landers dug trenches, analyzed the soil, searched for life.

2004: the Spirit and Opportunity probes accomplish much the same feat. These new probes dispatch small rovers, which crawl carefully, arduously, across the barren Martian surface, transmitting information about the surface rocks, informing us that Mars really had a world-encircled sea.

1976: Pong was closing its heyday as one of the first popular computer-based arcade games. Microprocessor controlled, the innards of the Pong machines were a marvel of technical sophistication and miniaturization.

2004: Grand Theft Auto (San Andreas version) features realistic characters, high speed urban driving, gun fighting, a pulsing soundtrack, and cameo appearances from larger-than-life characters such as Snoop Dogg.

And therein lies the resolution of Fermi’s paradox.

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