3.2: WOULD SPACE TRAVEL HAVE OCCURRED WITHOUT THE MOON?

 

In the last of “The triple Triumph of the Moon”, Asimov talked about how the Moon contributed heavily to the discarding of the Aristotelian view of the universe. Aristotle’s theories about the heavenly bodies being made up of luminous ether had held sway until Galileo’s time. This had the implication that the Earth was the only solid world with rocks, mountains and other physical features. The Moon probably gave men the first inkling that this was not true. The Greeks discovered the relationship between the phases of the Moon and its position relative to the Sun and concluded in very early times that the former was not luminous and owed its ‘luminosity’ to the latter. Dubious theories about the Moon being contaminated because it was too near the Earth were developed to explain this away.

Then in 250 BC, Eratosthenes of Cyrene used trigonometric methods and calculated the diameter of the Earth as eight thousand miles, which was very close to the truth. A hundred years later, Hipparchus of Nicaea also used trigonometric methods to determine the distance between the Earth and the Moon. He decided the distance of the Moon from the Earth was about thirty times the diameter of the earth, which was remarkably accurate. For this to be true, the Moon would have to be a quarter the diameter of the Earth. It was the first foreign body believed to be so large; i.e. the first other world one could set our sights on visiting. Only the Moon was close enough for Hipparchus to have calculated its size and distance by trigonometric means. Asimov correctly pointed out that the telescope was invented for military purposes and questioned if anyone would have bothered to turn it spaceward if there was no suspicion that the Moon was so large. To his credit, Galileo did and found that the Moon was a pockmarked and mountainous, rocky body, in many ways similar to the Earth. Fiction about space travel started to appear from then on.

Asimov did concede that, given time, the same could have been done for Venus or Mars. However these bodies are at least a hundred times further away than the Moon, only three days away. Any technology capable of launching spacecraft and people to other planets would have been a lot more difficult to develop without the nearby Moon to provide an easily reachable testing ground to prove theories.

           

3.2.1: The Cold War and the Moon:

Fig 23: Astronaut on moon

 

There were other reasons that provided impetus for conquering the Moon that would not apply to the planets. The Cold War propelled space exploration like nothing else could. Besides glory and propaganda, there was a darker side to the superpowers’ quest to reach the Moon first. The Americans wanted to turn the Moon into a nuclear missile platform capable of obliterating the Soviet Union, should the former launch an attack on the United States. After the failed launch of the civilian rocket Vanguard 1 in December 1957, the military took over responsibility for the subsequent Explorer 1 project. The frightful comment “ Who controls the Moon controls the Earth” by, Deputy Director of Air Force Research and Development, Brigadier General Homer A. Boushey, showed just how serious the Military’s intention was. Should there have been no Moon, I doubt Brigadier Boushey would have recommended Venus as missiles from it would take more than a year to reach the Earth!

More than 80% of the entire Soviet Space Program was for military purposes. Though they had ambitious plans for militarising even Mars and Venus, both of these areas depended on the success of technology developed for their lunar missions. Without a nearby Moon within three days of Earth, would the Soviets have been able to test their rockets and concepts, allowing them to contemplate going further?

 

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