Friday, December 14, 2007

What I did last week

Last Friday I gave a short talk on a panel called Forging the Future of Space Science: The Next 50 Years. It was a really fun event celebrating the 2nd International Geophysical Year. The main reason I'm aware of the first Geophysical Year in 1957 is that is when the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station was built, establishing a long-term, permanent human presence at the center of the Antarctic continent. I've been to Antarctica twice now with the Antarctic Search for Meteorites, and I know firsthand how much amazing science about our planet - biology, oceanography, volcanology, paleontology, meteorology and climate science, and of course astrobiology and space science - are uniquely enabled by the South Pole and other Antarctic outposts providing vital support and logistics. So it's personally fitting for me to be talking about building a permanent human outpost on the Moon during the 2007 IGY.

It was fun to spend my 10 minutes gushing about the Moon. My main point is that the first time we went to the Moon, planetary science was in its infancy and we were learning how to explore another planet. The knowledge we gained from those missions gave us a framework for thinking about terrestrial planets - things we consider fundamental now, like that they are made of rocks that form through normal igneous processes, they are differentiated into a core, mantle, and crust, and impact craters extensively modified the surface. Then we happily went off, using this knowledge to explore other planets. But we never took that knowledge back to the Moon, to understand the Moon as a unique planet in its own right. The chance to have an outpost and study the lunar South Pole in the same way we've come to be able to work in Antarctica would be an amazing scientific and human accomplishment.

But, setting my 10 minutes of soapbox grandstanding aside, I had a mindblowing day, meeting some giant people who live here in Huntsville. Ernst Stuhlinger spoke first - he is one of the original von Braun rocket team, who emigrated to the US after WWII and jumpstarted the US Space PRogram here in Huntsville, and who went on to serve as associate director for MSFC. I had dinner with Jan Davis, a shuttle and space station astronaut, and Dave Williams, currently President at the University of Alabama Huntsville, but who made his career in iron meteorites and was my ANSMET tentmate Lysa's undergraduate advisor. It's a small, small world.

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