I saw a cool documentary on the moon recently that made me realize that I, as a member of a post-Apollo generation, take the moon for granted. It pointed out to me that what I know as a largely unexciting hunk of rock was actually a great source of wonder and mystery until only very recently. People thought the moon might be a deity, or a home to strange creatures, or made of cheese. These age old questions were finally answered in the least satisfying way possible: the moon, it seemed, was just a desolate, boring hunk of rock. And by the time I was born in '79, the magic was long gone. The moon was like the most hyped and anticipated flop movie of all time.
As is so often the case, disappointment fell on the heels of discovery, as we failed to grasp that the simple reality was far more sophisticated than any myth its realization had exposed. Now, the major remaining point of interest that many people have in the moon is the notion that we actually went there. As you are surely aware, even this last vestige of mystique has in recent years been assailed.
The "moon landing hoax" theory is, of course, complete crap. When I first encountered it, however, I found was ill-equipped to retort: how could you prove they HAD gone to the moon? Making things worse, NASA recently admitted that they had unwittingly erased the original video of the first moon landing.
The moon was formed a few billion years ago when the Earth collided with another small planet or body. The resulting debris eventually coalesced and fell into the familiar orbit. Since the moon has no tectonic activity (my guess is because it's too small), moon rocks are much, much older than any rocks that are found here on Earth, where the crust is being continually subducted, melted, and born anew. Anyone skeptical of the moon landing can try to get the moon rocks collected by the Apollo missions radiometricaly dated. Isotopes don't conspire.
"Old moon rocks don't prove that men went to the moon; they could be lunar meteorites."
The sheer numbers of samples collected by the various Apollo missions belies this. And here's another experiment you could do: shoot the moon with a laser. One of the missions left behind a mirror specially-shaped to reflect light directly back to it's source. By shooting a laser at the mirror and measuring its return time, NASA has discovered that the moon is slowly, but surely, moving away from the Earth. By doing the same, skeptics of the moon landing could verify that the mirror was, in fact, placed on the lunar surface.
"Moon rocks could also have been collected, and the mirror left behind, by unmanned craft."
True, but let's ask ourselves: is denial reasonable at this point? If we must admit that we sent a craft of some kind, is it unreasonable to believe that it was manned? I mean, with the "technology" they had in the 6o's, which story do you think is more incredible? The building of a rock-collecting, mirror-positioning robot would have been a fantastical feat for the time: I've heard it said that the space shuttles they used were, digitally speaking, approximately as sophisticated as a modern calculator watch. Why did they fake it, when they could more easily have accomplished it?
In the intro to his (good) book, What is America?, Ronald Wright reminds the reader that:
When I read this, I pictured a future wherein a lonely American flag orbited an Earth which had long since forgotten of its existence. It seemed to me a far more poignant a symbol of decline than a dashed and overgrown Statue of Liberty. It is fine to mourn the loss of myth to progress; but remember that the reverse is a trend a million times more tragic.
"When Stanley Kubrick made the film 2001: A Space Odyssey forty years ago, it did not seem far fetched to imagine that by the start of the millennium Americans might have a base on the moon and be flying manned craft to Jupiter. After all, only two decades had passed from the first aeroplane to the first space flight. But by the real 2001 there had been no man on the moon since 1972, elderly space shuttles were falling out of the sky, and the defining event of that year...was not a voyage to outer planets but the flying of airliners into skyscrapers by fanatics."