Monday, 20 July 2009
On the Moon
Well - in case you've somehow missed the blizzard of media coverage - today is the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. I'm afraid I felt nothing very much about it at the time, and rather less now. It left me more bemused than anything - a staggering technical achievement, yes, but what else? And why do it? I don't think Auden was far off when he called it a 'phallic triumph' - it sure showed those Russians! Fair enough - then what? Then very little - for all the brave talk then and since, doesn't it look like something of a dead end? As it took all that phenomenal concentration of effort and expense to get no further than, in cosmological terms, our doorstep - and that in a very limited and extremely risky way - there plainly wasn't going to be much of a future in space travel... Happily, the fact that there are now human footprints in the lunar dust has not dented the sheer mysteriousness of the Moon - it only deepens, the more we find out about that strange object. Seekers after 'design' marvel at the fact that, if the Moon wasn't there, exactly where it is and as it is, life on Earth - the life that led (as we humans like to think) to Us - would have been impossible. The Moon joins all those other features of our larger physical world whose coordinates and properties must be precisely as they are for the miracle of Us to have come about. Well, how else could the world - the one we inhabit - be, since we are evidently here? It's the only world in which we could be. The mystery is not in the 'design' of the universe but in what we are and why we are here... Meanwhile, the Moon remains, to my human eyes, what it always was - beautiful, mysterious, and gazing at us with a human face - an all too human face, abashed, rueful, bemused. Like us.