Great Deeds

By John Hertz: (reprinted from No Direction Home 21; written 20 Jul 19) It’s National Lollipop Day.

I went to a See’s Candies shop and got a root-beer lollipop. Their lollipops are resolutely un-discoid.

And it’s the Glorious 20th, indeed the 50th anniversary of humankind’s first landing on the Moon. Sweet.

I’ve seen two fine commemorations, Unsolicited Opinion No. 42 (!) from Chris Barkley, and No. 46 of Journey Planet (PDF) from Chris Garcia and (currently) James Bacon, an issue guest-edited by Steven H Silver.

Looking backward can have two edges – or more. Maybe it’s not so much like a sword as like a snub cube.

I remember Larry Niven’s saying “We put a man on the Moon, why can’t we put a man on the Moon?” Others have said it too. Maybe not enough have.

More recently people have been saying we should put a woman on the Moon. I hope for it.

Then there was, and there still is, the question of resources. Where should we put those?

When President Obama was inaugurated I sent him a poem and urged he consider leadership into math and the physical sciences. He never answered, but he was busy.

I said it as a liberal-arts guy. I could say it again.

Chris Garcia published the poem.

The best I’ve made so far today is (unrhymed 5-7-5-7-7-syllable lines)

When governments pay,
Conquest fuels discovery;
When private wealth pays,
It hopes for a quick profit:
But science, explorers, go.

I’m not content but there isn’t much more of today left.

In an airport bookshop on the way home from Spikecon I got a copy of the 50th-anniversary edition of The Lord of the Rings (J. Tolkien, 1954; 2004 ed. corrected various errors introduced in reprinting, and had an improved index; I’d only the 2nd ed. 1965; haven’t seen the 60th-anniv. ed. 2014).

This remark struck me (bk. 5, ch. IX; 2004 ed. at p. 877); Tolkien’s Elves (Legolas Greenleaf is speaking), who lived long, and were not weak, loved language, and sped what was sung well.

Follow what may, great deeds are not lessened in worth.

We reached the Moon with the Apollo 11 mission of the United States National Aeronautics & Space Administration. Neil Armstrong (1930-2012) was the first human being to set foot there. E.E. Aldrin, Jr., “Buzz” Aldrin to us and the world, was the second. He’s on the front cover of Journey Planet 46, a famous photograph taken by Armstrong, on the Moon in a white Space suit, feet apart.

Barkley met Armstrong while Armstrong was a University of Cincinnati professor in 1974. The tale in Unsol. Op. 42 doesn’t mention eponym Cincinnatus of Rome, two and a half millennia ago, who was summoned from his farm in a crisis, accepted dictatorial power, defeated the enemy, and returned to his farm; Armstrong, having had to fly the Apollo 11 Lunar Module manually to a safe landing with 20 seconds of fuel left, and upon return having ticker-tape parades in New York and Chicago attended by six million, was teaching aeronautical engineering when Barkley met him.

Silver chauffered Aldrin to and from an International Space Development Conference in 2010. Greg Benford, also in Journey Planet 46, tells of going to see Aldrin, who asked if Benford would collaborate on a science fiction novel. Didn’t happen; Benford thought existing commitments wouldn’t leave him free enough, so recommended John Barnes, with whom Aldrin co-authored Encounter with Tiber (1996) and The Return (2000); but Benford did get to drive Aldrin home from a Planetary Society meeting another time.

Aldrin on the Apollo 11 mission was able to return a service given his father, acknowledge a pioneer, and put a further link in one of history’s little chains, with a book.

Robert H. Goddard (1882-1945), called with good reason the father of modern rocketry, perhaps of the Space Age, launched the first liquid-fueled rocket at Auburn, Massachusetts, in 1926. He taught physics at Clark University and taught Aldrin’s father. Other scientists and the press ridiculed Goddard’s theories of Space flight. He wrote an autobiography around the time of launching that rocket; it remained unpublished until 1966.

Aldrin took a copy with him, autographed it “Flown to the Moon on board Apollo 11 / July 16-24 1969 / Buzz Aldrin”, and gave it to Goddard’s widow, who later gave it to Clark where it may be seen.

The New York Times on July 17th, i.e. the day after the Apollo 11 launch, published under the headline “A Correction” a summary of its 1920 editorial mocking Goddard and concluded “Further investigation and experimentation have confirmed the findings of Isaac Newton in the 17th Century and it is now definitely established that a rocket can function in a vacuum as well as in an atmosphere. The Times regrets the error.”

Aldrin, a Presbyterian, using a kit given by his pastor, took Communion. Later he said “Perhaps, if I had it to do over again, I would not choose to celebrate…. Although it was a deeply meaningful experience for me, it was a Christian sacrament, and we had come to the Moon in the name of all mankind.”

Tonight he said “Looking back, landing on the Moon wasn’t just our job, it was a historic opportunity…. Today belongs to you”, and an hour ago ”Goodnight Moon!”