Wednesday, May 20, 2015

BM 3 - Is it Coincidence?

 As i have posted earlier, the only solution to the origin of the moon is an engineering solution that uses both gravity control to extract part of the Earths crust and perhaps all of Mar's crust to form the moon itself.  Step one would remove Mar's crust to form a mass of material then reshaped to form a hollow sphere.  Step two would extract part of the Earth's crust in the same way to provide an outer crust on the moon.  All this was done through a wormhole four billion years in our past.  Thus I only need to learn to manage gravity and wormholes, both of which appear to be within reach and completely doable.

When the weight of evidence allows no other explanation not utterly improbable, it is time to ask what intelligence can do.  i just described the standing protocol for producing life giving planets around every star.

That clearly implies that life is fully and deeply entrenched throughout the universe.  The more serious question remains just how did it get started in thev first place.

Is it coincidence? 
On top of all the other strange facts regarding the Moon it becomes rather unrealistic to keep putting everything down to a random fluke of nature. Of course, we were well aware that the numbers we were looking at were only integer when one uses base ten – and we will deal with that issue later. If it is not coincidence then there are only two other options. The first is that there is some unknown law of astrophysics at work, causing relationships to emerge that were spotted in some way by our Stone-Age forebears. The other is conscious design. The idea of deliberate design seemed plum crazy – common sense tells us it’s wrong. 

Then we, once again, considered more wise words from Albert Einstein: ‘Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.’ At the age of eighteen we, like everyone else, ‘knew’ that everything in the world was natural. But when we put our prejudices of what can and cannot be, to one side and thought laterally about it, the more reasonable it seemed. It was not unreasonable to believe that the stonemasons of the Neolithic period were smart enough to measure the polar circumference of the Earth and that they devised a unit of measure that was integer to the planet. Such a feat can be achieved with very simple tools as demonstrated by the Ancient Greeks. 

But could they really have measured the circumference of the Moon and the Sun? Or was this mysterious property of pendulums something to do with it? Most of all we marvelled at the fact that, yet again, it was the size and position of the Moon that revealed that there is an issue to resolve. ‘The best explanation for the Moon is observational error – the Moon does not exist!’ Attributed to Irwin Shapiro of The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics The one inescapable fact about the Moon is that it orbits the Earth. It is up there beaming down on us, but according to everything that science knows, it shouldn’t be. As we have seen, it is known that people have been Moon-gazing for tens of thousands of years, and our understanding has grown to a point where we are now very confused. 

The Greeks were great gatherers of knowledge and investigators of the rules of nature. In the fifth century BC Democritus, who originated the theory that matter was made of indivisible units he called atoms, went to the other end of the scale and suggested that the markings on the Moon could be mountains. A little later Eudoxus of Cnidus, who was an astronomer and mathematician, calculated the Saros cycle of eclipses and thereby could predict when they would appear. Around 260 BC, yet another Greek by the name of Aristarchus, devised a method by which he thought he could measure the size of the Moon and gauge its distance from Earth. 

He never actually achieved it but a mathematician and astronomer of major importance known as Hipparchus of Rhodes achieved the feat around a hundred years later. He used an ingenious technique that was conducted during a solar eclipse. The eclipse in question was total in Syene but only partial in Alexandria which was some 729 kilometres away. Enlisting the help of like-minded friends, Hipparchus was able to use the known distance from Syene to Alexandria, together with the angular difference of the total and partial eclipse to establish the Moon’s true size and distance from the Earth. 

 At the end of the first century AD, Plutarch wrote a short work about the Moon, entitled On the Face in the Moon’s Orb where he suggested that the markings on the face of the Moon were caused by deep recesses, too deep to reflect sunlight. He proposed that the Moon had mountains and river valleys and even speculated that people might live there. Although a Hindu astronomer, Aryabbata, repeated and confirmed the experiment conducted by Hipparchus as late as 500 AD, Christian authorities of the time maintained a biblical approach to the Moon and only information about our near neighbour that didn’t contradict the scriptures was countenanced. 

With the arrival of Christianity the world entered a dark age where scripture rather than science was the only permitted guide to human existence. The grip of the Church slipped somewhat during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and the Renaissance (literally meaning ‘rebirth’) emerged bringing radical and comprehensive changes to European culture. The Renaissance brought about the demise of the Middle Ages and for the first time the values of the modern world made an appearance. The consciousness of cultural rebirth was itself a characteristic of the Renaissance. Italian scholars and critics of this period proclaimed that their age had progressed beyond the barbarism of the past and had found its inspiration, and its closest parallel, in the civilizations of ancient Greece and Rome. 

By the end of the sixteenth century, a genius from the town of Pisa called Galileo Galilei became one of the most important scientists of the Renaissance carrying out experiments into pendulums, falling weights, the behaviour of light and many other subjects that captured his imagination. Above all, for most of his adult life Galileo was an avid astronomer. In May 1609, Galileo received a letter from Paolo Sarpi telling him about an ingenious spyglass that a Dutchman had shown in Venice. 

Galileo wrote in April 1610: ‘About ten months ago a report reached my ears that a certain Fleming had constructed a spyglass by means of which visible objects, though very distant from the eye of the observer, were distinctly seen as if nearby. Of this truly remarkable effect several experiences were related, to which some persons believed while others denied them. A few days later the report was confirmed by a letter I received from a Frenchman in Paris, Jacques Badovere, which caused me to apply myself wholeheartedly to investigate means by which I might arrive at the invention of a similar instrument. This I did soon afterwards, my basis being the doctrine of refraction.’ From these reports, and by applying his skills as a mathematician and a craftsman, Galileo began to make a series of telescopes with an optical performance much better than that of the Dutch instrument. 

His first telescope was made from available lenses and gave a magnification of about four times, but to improve on this Galileo taught himself to grind and polish his own lenses and by August 1609 he had an instrument with a magnification of around eight or nine. He quickly realized the commercial and military value of his super-telescope that he called a perspicillum, particularly for seafaring purposes. 

As the winter of 1609 brought colder, clearer nights Galileo turned his telescope towards the night sky and began to make a series of truly remarkable discoveries. The astronomical discoveries he made with his telescopes were described in a short book called The Starry Messenger published in Venice in May of the following year – and they caused a sensation! Amongst many other findings Galileo claimed to have proved that the Milky Way was made up of tiny stars, to have seen four small moons orbiting Jupiter and to have seen mountains on the Moon. As with many of his scientific investigations Galileo could easily have fallen foul of the Church authorities if his drawings of the Moon had been made public. According to Christian tradition both the Sun and the Moon were perfect, unblemished spheres. They simply had to be so because God had created them – and none of the Almighty’s creations could be flawed. 

Eventually Galileo was put under perpetual house arrest by the Papacy for his blasphemous claim that the Sun was at the centre of the solar system. It is therefore quite possible that he knew more about the Moon than he was willing to admit in public. In order to explain the markings on the Moon without treading on the toes of the Church, a number of ideas were put forward in Christian countries. Perhaps the most popular of these, at least for a while, was the suggestion that the Moon was a perfect mirror. If this was the case there were no markings on the Moon but rather reflections of surface features on the Earth. It didn’t seem to occur to anyone that as the Moon orbited the Earth the markings should change, since the land beneath it would not remain constant. 

Another suggestion, and one that was accepted in some circles, was that there were mysterious vapours between the Earth and the Moon. The images, it was suggested, were present in sunlight and were merely being reflected from ‘the vapours’. But the most popular theory, probably because it didn’t impinge on Christian doctrine, was that there were variations in the density of the Moon and that these created the optical illusions we see as markings on the Moon’s surface. This unlikely explanation was safe, though it probably did little to convince early scientists, and certainly would not have impressed Galileo. 

After Galileo’s time, telescopes improved markedly and it was obvious to anyone who studied the Moon that it was a sphere with a rocky and undulating surface. As the Church gradually lost its power to direct scientific thought, many of the earlier ideas regarding the Moon became unthinkable. But no one had any idea how the Moon had come into being and why it occupied the orbit it did around the Earth. 

It didn’t take long for the subject of the Moon to become very important to astronomers. Empires such as those created by Britain, France and Spain, were expanding. This necessitated long sea voyages and led to that most urgent of searches – a way to plot ‘longitude’ whilst at sea. It is quite easy to establish one’s position on the planet in a north– south line (latitude) but it was impossible to know where you were in terms of east–west (longitude). In the northern hemisphere, for example, latitude can be quickly gauged by measuring the angular distance between the horizon and the Pole Star. This angle also defines one’s position north of the equator. The longitude problem was eventually solved by having an extremely accurate clock on board a ship that was set to the time at one’s point of departure. It wasn’t difficult to work out the difference between local time, say at midday, and the time at the home port. It was then simply a matter of adding or subtracting to discover one’s true position on the Earth’s surface. 

This was fine but it took many decades before a suitably accurate clock could be created. In the meantime, astronomers sought for other methods to determine longitude, not least of all because there was a fabulous prize on offer for anyone who could crack the problem. And the place where many of them turned to establish longitude was the Moon. Astronomers proposed that if really accurate tables were kept of the Moon’s position relative to the background stars it would be possible to assess the true time of day in one’s home port. The reason this could work was that the Moon, being very close to the Earth and orbiting quickly, moved cross the heavens by around thirteen degrees of arc per day. 

Using the Moon it was a fairly simple matter to establish ‘local time’ and then to do the necessary computations to discover one’s position. The lists of tables necessary to accomplish the task were not so simple, however, and as soon as good chronometers were available the Moon was abandoned as a means for longitude assessment. However, the desire to solve this problem, and the potential profitability of doing so, meant that the Moon was receiving a great deal of attention during the seventeenth century and very accurate maps of its surface began to appear. 

It wasn’t until the nineteenth century, however, that probably the first reasoned explanation as to the Moon’s origin was put forward. 

George Darwin, the son of Charles Darwin, the controversial Englishman who first proposed the theory of natural selection, was a known and respected astronomer who studied the Moon extensively and came up with what became known as the ‘fission theory’ in 1878. George Darwin may have been the first astronomer to ascertain that the Moon was moving away from the Earth. Working backwards from his knowledge of the rate the Moon was receding from the Earth, Darwin proposed a time that the Earth and the Moon could have been part of the same common mass. 

He suggested that this molten, viscous sphere had been rotating extremely rapidly in about five and a half hours. Darwin further speculated that the tidal action of the Sun had caused what he termed as ‘fission’ – a Moon-sized dollop of the molten Earth spinning away from the main mass and eventually taking up station in orbit. At the time this seemed very reasonable and was the favoured theory by the beginning of the twentieth century. In fact the fission theory did not come under serious attack until the 1920s when a British astronomer called Harold Jeffries was able to show that the viscosity of the Earth in its semi-molten state would have dampened the motions required to generate the right sort of vibration necessary to fulfil Darwin’s fission. 

A second theory that once convinced a number of experts was the ‘coaccretion theory’. This postulates that the Earth, having already been formed, accumulated a disc of solid particles – a little like the rings of Saturn. It was suggested that, in the case of the Earth, this disc of particles ultimately came together to form the Moon. There are several reasons why this theory can’t be the answer. Not least is the problem of the angular momentum of the Earth–Moon system that could never have been as it is, if the Moon had formed in this way. There are also difficulties regarding the melting of the magma ocean of the infant Moon. 

The third theory regarding the origin of the Moon that was in circulation around the time that the first lunar probes were launched was the ‘intact capture theory’. At one time seeming to be the most attractive possibility, the intact capture theory suggested that the Moon originated far from the Earth and that the Moon became a ‘rogue’ body that was simply captured by the gravitational pull of the Earth and that it took up orbit around the Earth. There are many reasons why the intact capture theory is now disregarded. Oxygen isotopes of the rocks on the Moon and on the Earth prove conclusively that they originated at the same distance from the Sun, which could not be the case if the Moon ad been formed elsewhere. 

There are also insurmountable problems in trying to build a model that would allow a body as big as the Moon to take up orbit around the Earth. Such a huge object could not simply drift neatly into an Earth orbit at low speed like carefully docking a super-tanker – it would almost certainly smash into the Earth at a massive speed or possibly skim off and hurtle onward. 

By the middle of the 1970s all previous theories about the way the Moon had been formed were running into trouble for one reason or another and this created a virtually unthinkable situation in which acclaimed experts might have to stand up in public and admit that they simply didn’t know how or why the Moon was there. 

As acclaimed science writer William K Hartmann, senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, Arizona said in 1986 in his book Origin of the Moon: ‘Neither the Apollo astronauts, the Luna vehicles, nor all the king’s horses and all the king’s men could assemble enough data to explain the circumstances of the moon’s birth.’ 9 

Out of this miasma came a new theory and, in fact, the only one that is presently widely accepted despite some fundamental problems. It is known as the ‘Big Whack theory’. The idea came out of theories that originated in the Soviet Union in the 1960s – specifically the work of Russian scientist V S Savronov, who had been working on the possibility of planetary origins from literally millions of different-sized asteroids known as planetesimals. As a divergence from the Soviet ideas, Hartmann, together with a colleague, D R Davis, suggested that the Moon had come into being as a result of the collision of two planetary bodies, one being the Earth and the other a rogue planet at least as large as the planet Mars. Hartmann and Davis hypothesized that the two planets had collided in a very specific way that allowed jets of matter to be ejected from the mantles of both bodies. This matter was thrown into orbit, where it eventually came together to form the Moon.10 

The suggestion seems to have many merits. First and foremost it appears to address the greatest puzzle that the recovery of Moon rock had thrown up: How was it that the composition of the Moon was so similar to that of the Earth, but only in part? A close analysis of Moon rock has shown that it is very similar to the rock that forms the mantle of the Earth, yet the Moon is nowhere near as massive as the Earth in proportional terms. (The Earth is only 3.66 times as big as the Moon but has eighty-one times the Moon’s mass.) It was obvious that the Moon could not contain many of the heavy elements that are found inside the Earth and the Big Whack theory purported to explain why this was the case. The Earth and the rogue visitor had come together in a very specific way. Although they would eventually form one planet it was reasoned that they must have impacted, drawn apart and then come together again. Computer modelling showed that under these very special circumstances it would have been possible for the material thrown off to have been mantle material, from close to the surface of the two bodies. 

Although the theory eventually gained ground, at first it seemed so improbable that it was generally rejected. But with the passing of time, further work showed that such an unlikely scenario could conceivably have taken place. In 1983 an international conference was held at Kona, Hawaii, to try and solve the problems regarding the origins of the Moon. It was at this meeting that the Big Whack theory, also known as the Giant Impact Hypothesis of the Collision Ejection theory, began to gain ground. Hartmann’s own suggestions, together with those of other scientists at the conference, formed the nucleus of the 1986 book, Origin of the Moon, which was edited by Hartmann himself. In the intervening period several experts have created computer models that purport to add weight to the Big Whack theory and the most convincing of these are those of Dr Robin Canup, who is now Assistant Director of the Department of Space Studies in Colorado, USA. Canup wrote her PhD dissertation on the Moon’s origin and specifically the Big Whack theory. Her early work led to the conclusion that the suggested impact would have actually led to a swarm of moonlets, rather than the Moon, but by 1997 further computer modelling resulted in a model of the impact that would lead to the Moon’s presence. Despite the fact that the Big Whack theory is now generally accepted by most authorities, it has many problems. 

Not least of all is that recognized by Robin Canup herself as she admits that there is one key aspect of the theory that doesn’t make sense. This stems from the fact that other researchers have pointed out that such a massive impact as that proposed could not have failed to speed up the rotation of the Earth to a level far beyond today’s situation. Canup agrees and the only way that she could deal with this anomaly is to propose a second major impact – which was designated ‘Big Whack II’. This suggests that the second planetary collision happened perhaps only a few thousand years after the first one but, quite incredibly, this incoming object came from the opposite direction and so cancelled out the huge spin imparted to the Earth by the first cataclysmic event. This balanced double act sounds unlikely in the extreme. Two cosmic collisions that just happen to precisely return the planet to its natural rhythm? To us, this explanation smacks of desperation!  Canup herself is not happy with Big Whack II and is hopeful of modifying the original theory so that it can account for the present rate of spin of the Earth. 

There is another big problem to overcome if the Big Whack theory is to be taken seriously. When rocks were brought back from the Moon, both by American astronauts and Soviet unmanned Moon missions, they were subjected to every conceivable test. The observed fact that put paid to the captured asteroid theory of the Moon is also a gigantic stumbling block to the Big Whack theory. It has been observed that the oxygen isotope signatures of Moon rocks are identical with those of rocks from the Earth – and that fact has some serious implications: Moon rocks and Earth rocks can only have the same oxygen isotope signature if they originated at the same distance from the Sun. 

This would mean that the Mars-sized body that hit the Earth must have occupied a similar orbit to that of the Earth and yet had already managed to survive for many millions of years before it hit the Earth. That does not sound reasonable. This situation is extremely unlikely and it throws up other difficulties. The present obliquity of the Earth (its twenty-three degree tilt against the plane of its orbit around the Sun) is usually deemed to be the result of the giant impact, but any body of the size of Mars that was in an orbit similar to that of the Earth could not have had sufficient momentum to knock the Earth’s angle of rotation back so severely. Either the rogue planet was Mars-sized, and came from way out in the solar system and was therefore travelling extremely fast, or else it had to be at least three times the size of Mars, which doesn’t tie in with the computer models as they stand. 

Some of the other problems were cited by Jack J Lissauer, a well-respected scientist from NASA’s Ames Research Center in an article he wrote for Nature in1997.11  Lissauer is said to have joked to his students about a remark made by another scientist, Irwin Shapiro from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics: ‘The best explanation for the Moon is observational error – the Moon does not exist!’ Lissauer’s article pointed out some of the problems with the Big Whack theory. He made it clear that in his opinion the latest research demonstrated that much of the material blown out by the impact (the ejecta) would have fallen back to the Earth. He says: ‘The implication here is that lunar growth in an impact-produced disk is not very efficient. So, to form our Moon, more material must be placed in orbit at a greater distance from Earth than was previously believed.’ Lissauer made it clear that as a result, he too is of the opinion that the rogue planet must have been substantially larger than that originally proposed but noted that it is difficult to see how the excess angular momentum resulting from such a large impact could have been lost. 

Three other scientists, Ruzicka, Snyder and Taylor, approached the problem from a slightly different direction by analysing the biochemical data available against the theoretical Big Whack. After a detailed examination they concluded: ‘There is no strong geochemical support for either the Giant Impact or Impact-triggered Fission hypotheses.’12 

These words used in the conclusion to this biochemical analysis indicate just how hopelessly contrived the whole Big Whack theory is. They go on to say: ‘This [hypothesis] has arisen not so much because of the merits of [its] theory as because of the apparent dynamical or geochemical shortcomings of other theories.’ In other words scientists hang onto the Big Whack theory, even though it has more holes than a rusty colander, simply because no other logical explanation has been found. It is just the least impossible explanation for a celestial body that has no right to be there. 

Not only is the Big Whack theory discredited on a number of grounds by the scientific fraternity itself, it also singularly fails to deal with the anomalies thrown up by our own research, as outlined throughout this book. Big Whack cannot explain the extraordinary ratio relationship between the Moon and the Sun or the Moon and the Earth. The Moon could, by pure chance, end up being exactly 1/400th the size of the Sun and occupying an orbit that allows it to stand 1/400th the distance between the Earth and the Sun – but the odds are, quite literally, astronomically against it. 

The Moon is proportionally bigger in relation to its host planet than any other in the solar system apart from Charon, Pluto’s moon, which is more than half the diameter of Pluto. These two bodies are essentially twin planets or may be asteroids orbiting each other at close range although they are believed to have an unrelated origin. Mercury has no moons at all and neither has Venus. Mars does have two moons but they are tiny in comparison with our own. A close examination of the many samples of Moon rock brought back by the American Apollo missions and the Soviet unmanned missions has thrown up what turned out to be one of the biggest surprises of all. It has been observed that the oldest of the rocks collected from the Moon are significantly more ancient that any rock ever found on Earth. The most venerable rocks to be found on the Earth date back 3.5 billion years, whilst some samples from the Moon are around 4.5 billion years old – which is very close to the estimated age of our solar system. When radioactive dating techniques are applied to meteorites they are uniformly found to be 4.6 billion years old. Yet even these rocks have the same oxygen isotope signature as those on Earth, another indication that the Moon has occupied its present distance from the Sun for an incredibly long time. 

There is currently no persuasive argument for this state of affairs. Our own, almost accidental, discoveries regarding the peculiar ratio relationships between the Earth, Moon and Sun described in our previous book, Civilization One,13 led us to an in-depth appraisal of the latest theories regarding the Moon and its origins. We were stunned by what we discovered. The Moon is bigger than it should be, apparently older than it should be and much lighter in mass than it should be. It occupies an unlikely orbit and is so extraordinary that all existing explanations for its presence are fraught with difficulties and none of them could be considered remotely watertight. 

We came to realize that many reputable experts across the world have significant misgivings about current theories concerning the Moon’s origins that, as we have shown in this chapter, they were quite willing to voice publicly. No matter how much the advocates of the Big Whack theory may claim they have solved the puzzle that is the Moon, it is quite obvious that this claim is far from being true. 

The Moon remains, to borrow the words of Winston Churchill, ‘a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma’. ‘We choose to go to the moon.’ President John F Kennedy: September 12th , 1962 After the end of the Second World War, rocket scientists from Germany were ‘liberated’ by both the United States and the Soviet Union, and by the beginning of the 1950s these experts were put to work on creating weapons of various sorts that would fuel the Cold War between the Eastern communists and the Western capitalists. On the American side the most famous of the German experts was Vernher Von Braun who had created the V1 and V2 rockets for Nazi Germany and who eventually went on to design the Saturn V rocket that would take people to the Moon. 

 At the outset the USA focused its attentions on developing new types of small but immensely powerful hydrogen bombs based on nuclear fusion whilst the USSR continued to refine the older and much heavier fission bomb. The Soviets therefore had to develop more powerful rockets and the R-7 missile, capable of carrying a five-tonne warhead, was the result. Their Chief Designer, Sergei Korolyov, realized that these rockets would also be capable of putting a one-and-a-half tonne satellite into Earth’s orbit and he put forward his plan for such a mission. Korolyov’s project was well under way when news came that the US was developing its own satellite launch, known as Project Vanguard. This new challenge set up a ‘race to space’ and Korolyov’s Main satellite project was temporarily suspended as all efforts became focused on the early launch of a smaller artificial satellite that could be built far more quickly. Sputnik lifted into the skies on October 4th 1957. This first spacecraft was a forty-pound sphere that carried a simple transmitter so that it could make meaningless, but technical sounding, bleeping sounds at which the world could marvel. 

The acclaim and sheer excitement caused by Sputnik’s success led the Soviet leader, Nikita Khruschev, to demand more high-profile stunts rather than a return to serious science. The team responded immediately by screwing together the original Sputnik’s backup spares to create a second Sputnik. They had only a few weeks as they were instructed that the next launch must happen before November 7th – the fortieth anniversary of the Great October Revolution. Sputnik 2 was something of a botched job but it captured the imagination of the planet because it took off four days ahead of the anniversary and, amazingly, it was carrying a passenger: a dog called Laika. Unfortunately for this canine hero, her ticket was strictly one way because this hastily assembled craft had no mechanism for a controlled return to Earth – so the animal was destined to die in orbit from the outset. It is thought that she lived for four days in space before suffering a painful death as the cabin overheated. The fatality was part of the plan and the mission was considered a success as it proved that a living creature could survive the journey into orbit. So despite the fact that Sputnik 2 was initiated as a publicity stunt it was an important prelude to a human being making the trip. 

The first two Sputniks were therefore politically inspired projects carried out by Sergei Korolyov under orders from the Kremlin and it was not until May 15th 1958 that his original spacecraft was launched – now designated Sputnik 3. This was a serious piece of equipment that was an automated scientific laboratory. It carried twelve instruments providing data on pressure and composition of the upper atmosphere; concentration of charged particles; photons in cosmic rays; heavy nuclei in cosmic rays; magnetic and electrostatic fields; and meteoric particles. And it was Sputnik 3 that first detected the presence of the outer radiation belts that surround the Earth. 

 The United States was highly embarrassed by the Soviet achievements, and particularly so because it was having little success with its own rocket launchers. So many of them blew up on the launch pad or during takeoff that the world’s press variously dubbed the American space mission ‘Kaputnik, Flopnik, and Stayputnik’. 

 In the summer of 1958 the Western world was rocking and rolling to Elvis Presley’s ‘Hound Dog’, ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ and ‘Jailhouse Rock’ whilst the politicians of the ex-Russian territory of Alaska were lobbying to be accepted as the 49th State of the Union. In Washington, however, the US government’s main focus was on something much more important – a new idea that was going to be a grand solution to a double-edged problem. Their first concern was Sputnik. These high-profile launches had very effectively announced to the world that Soviet scientists were smarter than American ones and it was also implicit that the ‘bad guys’ had the technology to deliver heavy nuclear weapons around the planet. America had fallen well behind in the race for definitive military advantage and the idea of a ‘first strike’ by the Soviets suddenly seemed possible and, for some, even probable given the USA’s current inability to respond in kind. 

The second problem was one of internal power blocks. The US Army and Navy were politically untouchable and each had separate rocketry programmes causing duplication of effort that was dramatically slowing down the rate of overall progress. In the light of all this, Congress decided to side step military fiefdoms and set up a new organization to oversee and coordinate American space research. Accordingly the National Aeronautics and Space Administration 1st (NASA) was formed on October 1958 and the idea of putting a man into space was immediately outlined, and given the title ‘Project Mercury’. 

But it was a race they were destined to lose because on April 12th 1961 cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to travel into space. Gagarin’s 108-minute voyage took him once around the planet, although he was not allowed to operate the controls because the effects of weightlessness had only been tested on dogs, and scientists were concerned that he may not be able to function properly. Consequently, ground crews controlled the mission with an override key provided just in case of an emergency. 

 NASA responded quickly by sending the astronaut Alan Shepherd on a ballistic trajectory sub-orbital flight to an altitude of 116 miles, returning to Earth at a landing point just 302 miles down the Atlantic Missile Range. America’s first manned space flight was a fifteen minute sky rocket event that was nowhere near the same league as Yuri Gagarin’s 25,000 mile, high-speed voyage into Earth’s orbit. 

The race to get a man into space had been won by the USSR but there was a second, more ambitious competition running in parallel. Reaching for the Moon! It first these were half-hearted attempts to get some metal, any bit of metal, onto the Moon. It had started with the first Pioneer rocket launched in 1958 by the United States – which lasted a full seventy-seven seconds before disintegrating into a giant fireball. A few months later the USSR launched Luna I, which performed beautifully but unfortunately missed the Moon and headed into solar orbit. In September 1959 the USSR managed to hit the bull’s-eye when Luna 2 became the first craft to land on another celestial body, slamming into the Moon’s surface just east of the Sea of Serenity. Before the impact Luna 2 was able to report back that there was something very odd about the Moon – it did not seem to have a magnetic field. 

The next Soviet craft, Luna 3, made a great stride forward by swinging around the Moon, taking photographs of the ‘dark’ side before heading back to Earth in April 1960. The Americans meanwhile had failure after failure. Nikita Khrushchev was pleased with the way that his nation was winning the space race and when Yuri Gagarin had orbited the Earth his propaganda machine went into overdrive to ensure that the world knew how superior his space engineers were. America’s newly elected President was no slouch when it came to inspiring the public and John F Kennedy decided to take control of the situation by announcing that the real battle was to put men on the Moon. Despite a history of underperformance in space technology, he rathe r bravely publicly pledged to land a man on the Moon before the end of the 1960's . 

 Many American Ranger and Soviet Luna spacecraft headed for the Moon during the decade but a large number missed and others crashed onto the lunar surface either by accident or sometimes by design. But it was the USSR, once again, that made the next breakthrough when Luna 9 became the first spacecraft to make a controlled landing onto the surface of another celestial body on February 3rd 1966. A significant part of the problem was the weird nature of the Moon’s mass that was not at all what was expected. Instead of a generally constant gravitational field such as the Earth exhibits across its surface, the Moon is an inconsistent, lumpy ball that has huge variations in gravity from region to region. As we have discussed, a pendulum swings with fairly regular precision on the Earth, with only quite small variations in swing rate because of the bulging of the planet at the equator. This is due to the fact that a person standing at sea level at the equator is a little further away from Earth’s dense core than someone closer to one of the poles. 

Using a pendulum on the Moon would not produce any meaningful result because of what are known as ‘mascons’. The term mascon is an abbreviation for ‘mass concentration’ – regions of the Moon that have hugely dense material below the surface, rather than in the core as everyone would naturally expect. These mascons made it very difficult for spacecraft to orbit close to the Moon without continual adjustments to compensate for the variations in gravity. Some observers believe that it was this gravitational minefield that caused all of the problems for the early probes that were directed on the basis of a homogeneous gravity. The existence of mascons was discovered after Lunar Orbiter 1 went into orbit around the Moon on August 14th 1966 and sent back high-quality images of over two million square miles of lunar surface, including the first detailed images of potential landing sites for the planned Apollo missions.

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