40 years on, Apollo 11's success no longer captivates

Local physicist: Michael Jackson's 'moonwalk' of more interest than Neil Armstrong's.

moon landing space 248.88 (photo credit: )
moon landing space 248.88
(photo credit: )
Forty years after US astronaut Neil Armstrong hailed "one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind" as he stepped onto the moon on July 20, 1969 as part of the Apollo 11 mission, international public interest in space exploration is in the dumps. In 1961, four years after the Soviet Union's launch of Sputnik the first successful manned satellite to orbit the Earth, then-US president John F. Kennedy vowed that his nation would "catch up to and overtake" the other major power by the end of the decade. Indeed, America succeeded with the moon landing as promised. But if Americans return to the moon that last covered its astronauts boots' with dust in 1972, "they will probably be greeted by Chinese," says Dr. Noah Brosch, director of Tel Aviv University's Wise Observatory, just west of Mitzpe Ramon in the South. Brosch, who read his first book on rocket propulsion at the age of 12 and fell in love with space adventures, was an IDF soldier when he heard Israel Radio broadcast news of mission commander Armstrong climbing down, followed by lunar module pilot Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, Jr., as command module pilot Michael Collins hovered above. "I was very excited!" he told The Jerusalem Post on the eve of the four-decade anniversary. Today, 10 times as many people have viewed a YouTube video of the late Michael Jackson's moonwalk performance than want to see Armstrong and Aldrin - still alive today - actually walking on the moon. "The intensive continuation of space exploration has been prevented by the fickleness of the public," explains Brosch. "They like a circus, not science. It would cost only one dollar per US resident per year to continue. "So there is little money, and US politicians - who think about the next election rather than long-term projects - have not fought for it because they don't see an immediate return from the investment. "JFK set a deadline and invested funds because he wanted to beat the Russians without having a war," Brosch says. "It's a shame the US has not continued at a similar pace." Brosch noted that numerous countries, including China and India, are planning to go to space to discover things that could solve the world's energy problems. For example, on the moon there is a substance called helium 3, a light, non-radioactive isotope of helium with two protons and one neutron. It is rare on Earth, but it is thought to be abundant on the moon, due to billions of years of solar wind and the moon's lack of atmosphere. It could be used for nuclear fusion research and production of non-petroleum energy, Brosch said. "With the rapid pace at which man is polluting his planet, an alternative home may become necessary," he noted. "More Apollo-type missions could be carried out, and then a colony established on the moon. "I myself would persuade my wife and be thrilled to go and stay for two years or so. If I had $100 million, I would gladly spend $20m. for a ticket to the moon, which is going to be the price for 'tourists.' There have been space accidents, and our own Ilan Ramon died in space, but the risk is only one percent. It is an acceptable risk for a lot of people who want to go and live there," said the TAU astrophysicist. Aside from the US and other countries' learning a great deal about the past of the solar system and how it was created, space exploration has been a boon to medicine, the satellite industry and telecommunications. "Space made great strides in miniaturization of medical technology, monitoring, sensors, imaging, telemedicine and doing other things from afar. A lot was learned about the effects of long periods in space on the human body," added Brosch. But a great deal of US know-how about how to build big rockets was lost, he said. The company that made the Apollo rockets for the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration "burned the plans. The only remaining Saturn rocket is in a museum. They would have to go to the Russians or the Europeans for it. If the US wants to go ahead, it will have to design new types of rockets." Brosch suggested that US President Barack Obama is not keen on investing in space research, as he seems more interested in domestic matters. "In Israel, we can't aim for the moon, but we have done a lot in satellites. Yet the Israel Space Agency projects don't get enough funding. [The late space agency founder and science minister] Prof. Yuval Ne'eman pushed for it, but I don't see a leader like him now who is eager to do so. The prime minister has to set space research as a national priority." He has no idea what Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkovitz wants to do with Israel Space Agency proposals, but maybe the right-wing minister "could commission a feasibility of settlements in space," Brosch adds with a laugh, noting that "at any time, an asteroid could hit Earth and end our careers on Earth." He concluded that as he looks back 40 years - when earthlings were amazed and enchanted by the fact that two Americans were were walking on the romantic globe of reflected solar light that surges and ebbs every month - he regrets that today, there is not the same excitement. "America should try to reach the moon again in 2015 and Mars in 2020. The moon can remain romantic, but it could also be the home of a manned colony."