Going to the moon started a game of interstellar tag
While driving my son to school one morning, the news commentator on the radio stated that China had short and long range plans for going to the moon. He turned to me, while I was desperately trying to turn left into rush hour traffic, and asked: “Why does anyone need to go back to the moon?”
Clearly, he has much to learn about the geo-scientific game of lunar politics. I tried to give a cogent explanation as we rumbled along. He cocked an eyebrow at me. I should have just given him the simple answer: It’s just a game of Tag.
In President Kennedy’s Rice Stadium speech about space exploration, he threw down the glove at the feet of the Soviets by stating that we would be first to step on La Luna because it was the hard thing to do.
We went; we explored; we golfed. Tag!
The Soviets gave up this particular version of the game and decided to play something different. Eventually, we too decided to play something different (a.k.a. Mars-and-go-seek).
Recently, some other kids on the block have stepped up demanding to play. We tried to explain that we weren’t playing anymore.
When you have the gold medal hanging around your neck, it’s hard to take the runner-ups seriously. It reminds me of the veteran old west gunslingers who spent the rest of their lives swatting away high noon upstarts wielding a Colt and wanting to make a name for themselves.
In this case, the upstarts have names like Japan, India, and yes, China. There are even private kids getting into the game, with fun names like ‘Aurora Programme’ and ‘GLXP Penn State Lunar Lion Team.’
I’m not sure what there is to gain these days except for bragging rights. I wonder what the next human (probably from a different hemisphere from ours) hero will do if they do land on the moon? Will Chinese astronauts dutifully seek out Tranquility Base and stomp on the American flag that was blown over during the ascent blast from Apollo 11’s lunar module returning to earth? Will Indian astronauts spell ‘Bollywood Rulez’ in the thin, gray lunar dust? Will Richard Branson unfurl a 100 yard moon-board advertising Virgin Records?
The scientific justifications are a little sketchy at the moment. Most low or zero gravity experiments have been performed. Companies like MoonEx and SpaceX have sprung up with the sole purpose of mining the living daylights out of our bright shiny friend in the sky. There are rumblings about building and placing a nifty telescope on the far side of the moon (Sorry Hubble).
Whatever the motive, it all comes down to Tag. In the game of Tag, the person who is ‘it’ tries desperately to find someone else to give the high honor to so they can take over. It’s a bit tiring being #1. Tag is really a game of ‘show us your skills.’ You really have to put on a good show while you run around.
So, to my son, I say again; the modern race-for-the-moon is nothing but a global game of Tag. We’re glad that others finally showed up to play. It was lonely playing alone. We were ‘it’ for so long. But Tag is for the young and we have a flight to catch…to Mars.