Halifax – Since childhood, I’ve been freaking out.
Sometimes, on a summer night, she seemed close enough to touch. I used to leave the curtains in my bedroom open to let the magical silver light through. The moon was engulfing each of its phases, but it was indescribably beautiful when it was full. In the ageless solitude, unaffected by anything more intrusive from Earth than the gaze of star dancers like myself, she had a kind of perfection.
So in July 1969, when Neil Armstrong became the first human to walk on the moon, the colossal achievement for me was tinged with sadness. The astronauts planted the American flag, took to the “wonderful ruin” of the lunar surface, and collected rocks for re-examination on Earth. It was undoubtedly a giant leap for mankind.
But it was a moment that changed the moon forever. The sea of calm will never calm down again. No longer inspiring for daydreamers like myself, aloof and self-sufficient, wonderfully lonely. It was just another piece of real estate that had to be ‘developed’ once the man got off for a walk. Discovery comes first, then colonization, and inevitably exploitation.
NASA is now heading to the Moon to survive, and the Canadian Space Agency is in big business. Just as it has happened in the shuttle program and the International Space Station for the past twenty-five wonderful years.
The Artemis missions appear more surprising as technical accomplishments than the Apollo missions that preceded them. The massive rocket is the largest ever.
Assuming Artemis 1 performs as expected, humans will return to the moon with Artemis 2 within three or four years. When that happens, her crew won’t be models, but four humans, including a Canadian astronaut. This alone should alert Canadians to the amazing role that the Canadian Space Agency has played in space exploration. These guys have earned their salaries.
So why this acknowledged romantic lament for the moon?
Technology has become the worship of new idols, the golden calf around which most developed nations dance. When Apple releases a new iPhone, it makes national news. From cell phones and stealth fighter jets, to self-driving cars and smart missiles that can hit a bull’s-eye every time, societies are measured by the extent of the technology they control. There are forces, and then there are nuclear forces. And no technology gives more prestige than the space sector, which has grown into a global industry of $470 billion annually.
But here on Earth, advanced science and technology have sometimes proven to be a curse rather than a blessing. In the fisheries sector, for example, an entire stock has been wiped out thanks to fishing to the limits of modern technology. Marine giant tugboats and factory freezers can now fish year-round in any waters. For fish, there is nowhere to hide.
Newfoundland’s legendary northern cod stocks have collapsed under the pressure of high-tech overfishing. The stock, which supported hundreds of communities on the county’s northeastern coast, never returned to commercial viability.
Another example. Nuclear technology has showered the planet with benefits, from medical advances to energy production. But it also put humanity on the brink of mass destruction.
Between the United States and Russia, there is enough nuclear arsenal to turn a living planet into a pile of ashes. As you read these words, Vladimir Putin plays a deadly game of Russian roulette around one of the largest nuclear facilities in the world. A miscalculation, a mistake on the part of the Russian or Ukrainian side in this war, could lead to a catastrophe of epic proportions.
Humans have not had a very good track record on this planet when it comes to leaving some things alone. That’s why plots of land in the Amazon rainforest, the “lungs of the planet,” are burned to make way for logging yards, livestock barns, and soybean plantations. With 17 percent of the rainforest already gone, the government continues to stimulate colonization in the Amazon, which inevitably leads to more deforestation.
And so, back to the moon. The exciting part of space exploration is the promise of new and fascinating knowledge that it clearly holds. But the frustrating truth is that exploiting space will be the likely outcome. Armed with amazing technology, many countries will move their rival here on Earth, economic, political and military into space. The Moon will become a contested territory, with the United States, China and Russia claiming the prize.
Moon outskirts pictures with Starbucks and McDonald’s are out of this world. Don’t be so quick to mock. The United States has long had an interest in exploiting the resources of the Moon. These resources include helium-3, iron, titanium, gold, silver and mercury, according to data collected by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.
NASA has already invited private companies to test plans for ice mining on the Moon. According to the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, the United Nations says no one actually owns the Moon, or any part of space. But the US government has allowed US companies to sell the resources extracted from the moon. It is not for nothing that American astronauts placed the flag of their country on the surface of the moon.
Percy Bysshe Shelley’s great poem, waning moonChecks.
“And like a dying lady, languid and pale; who swayed, wrapped in a gauze veil; out of her room the madman led her; and feeble scattering in her pallid brain. The moon arose in the mysterious East. A white and shapeless mass.”
As the giddy news anchors sway over the future launch of Artemis 1, remember these words.
Michael Harris is an award-winning writer and journalist.