Moon Mesh

This past Thursday, July 16th was the 40th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11 which journeyed to the moon enabling humans to set foot there for the first time. Although few people get to go, many benefit from the spinoffs. Regardless of one’s philosophic or political perspective, landing on the moon was quite a unique accomplishment in human history – only 12 people have ever walked on the moon. This is a very tiny fraction of a tenth of 1 percent of the people living today  and an imperceptible slice of the 10’s of billions of humans who have ever lived on Earth.

Many people have already seen the commercials with excerpts from the “We choose to go to the moon” speech by President Kennedy (video here) or news accounts. If you haven’t done so  already, you may enjoy an interesting cybertrip over to We Choose The Moon(best seen over a really high speed connection) where there’s a real-time simulation of the Apollo 11 mission.  At the We Choose The Moon site you can follow precisely the activities of the Apollo 11 mission. When you go there you will see a continuously updated map of the flight path and a 3-D simulation of the actual spacecraft. At the same time you will hear the actual conversation between the astronauts and mission control. When I first looked, the mission was half-way through Stage 6 – nearly 115,000 miles from Earth and I could hear Buzz Aldrin singing and talking to folks from mission control. Today as I write, Apollo 11 is approaching Stage 7, over 200,000 miles away and there’s only static in the background although a transcript of conversation shows that the flight crew just went to sleep.

Although I’m talking about the Apollo 11 being in orbit today that’s obviously not true – we know where Apollo 11 is. The command module is at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. – not 200,000 miles from Earth. And we know the crew is not on board. The rest of Apollo 11 has just recently been photographed on the moon. Still, people all over the world are experiencing Apollo 11 all over again – as though they’ve travelled back in time. Or perhaps as though folks from 1969 had travelled forward in time. Now it’s just a simulation but previously discussed here on the MJ, detailed simulations can be very  persuasive – even to the point of becoming indistinguishable from reality. If that seems a bit far-fetched consider how much detail will be captured for the next moon landing a decade from now. Quite a bit of data, audio and video will be streamed live over the interplanetary internet just recently deployed on the International Space Station. What isn’t streamed live will be digitized and accessible for future browsing and use. By 2050, people observing a 40-year anniversary will likely have radically advanced, bionic interfaces which allow for compelling ways to relive the experience. That’s a very long way from the simple “lunar lander” simulations we ran on calculators when I was an engineering student or even the more sophisticated orbital lander programs we ran when I was an engineer at Hughes Space and Communications. However, with Second Life and an HP41-C X running on my iPhone, it’s not quite as far from where we are today 🙂

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