Prior to his Apollo 15 lunar mission, astronaut David Scott met Belgian painter and printmaker Paul Van Hoeydonck at a dinner party. It was there agreed that Van Hoeydonck would create a small statuette for Scott to place on the Moon, though their recollections of the details disagree. Scott’s purpose was to commemorate those astronauts and cosmonauts who had lost their lives in the furtherance of space exploration, and he designed and separately made a plaque listing fourteen American and Soviet names. Van Hoeydonck was given a set of design specifications: the sculpture was to be lightweight but sturdy, capable of withstanding the temperature extremes of the Moon; it could not be identifiably male or female, nor of any identifiable ethnic group. According to Scott, it was agreed Van Hoeydonck’s name would not be made public, to avoid the commercial exploitation of the US government’s space program. Scott kept the agreement secret from NASA management prior to the mission, smuggling the statue aboard his spacecraft.
During the Apollo 15 mission, near the completion of his work on the lunar surface on August 1, 1971, Scott secretly placed the Fallen Astronaut on the Moon, along with a plaque bearing the names of eight American astronauts and six Soviet cosmonauts who had died in service:
Roughly twice a year, the apparent positions of sun and moon coincide, and a fortunate few observers are treated to a solar eclipse. Watching such an event provides the opportunity to contemplate a strange coincidence: From the surface of Earth, the apparent sizes of the sun and moon in the sky are nearly equal. The sun is almost exactly 400 times larger than the moon, and it’s also almost exactly 400 times farther away.
There is no particular reason why they should appear the same size, and it wasn’t always that way. The moon has been retreating from Earth since the mega-collision that created it, 4.5 billion years ago. We’ve measured its rate of retreat with the help of equipment left on the surface of the moon by Apollo astronauts: It’s presently receding at about 4 centimeters per year. A billion years ago, it would’ve thoroughly covered the sun with every eclipse; now, depending on where the moon is in its elliptical orbit, some eclipses are total, but more are annular, with the moon appearing slightly smaller than the sun, leaving a “ring of fire” surrounding the moon (see image below). Fifty million years from now, the moon will have receded to the point that all eclipses will be annular.
My brother works for his publisher, Macmillan, and after meeting at their offices asked him to sign a book for my two sons Oscar (aged six) and Mateo (aged three). They are just the right age to get a message like this.
You might recall an image release in 2012 of the Earth’s lights at night. Called Black Marble, the popular image was generated as a composite image from the best images by the taken over several months by NASA’s Suomi-NPP Visual Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS). The instrument, according to NASA’s website, “detects light in a range of wavelengths from green to near-infrared and uses “smart” light sensors to observe dim signals such as city lights, auroras, wildfires, and reflected moonlight.”
Black Marble is a pretty image. It shows the light emitted by people, but it doesn’t give us a sense of how or why we are using it. So, Miguel Roman and Eleanor Stokes set about creating a dynamic understanding of human behavior at night around the globe.
They took over 3 years of Suomi-NPP VIIRS data over major urban areas in North America, the Caribbean, and the Middle East, and developed algorithms to get rid of view-obstructing clouds, correct terrain errors, correct for atmospheric effects, and to remove light contamination from the moon, fire, and stray light. Overall, they focused on daily changes in lighting at the country, city, and neighborhood scales during the holiday season as compared to the rest of the year.
The result is visually dramatic. During the holidays our activity patterns change. This in turn changes the location of demand for energy services. For instance, in big metropolitan areas, lighting increases in predominantly suburban, residential areas. This is likely because people are leaving work earlier and going home to turn on lights. Also, McMansions require more light to illuminate with festive holiday lights. Interestingly, urban centers increase only slightly when compared to the suburbs, which is probably related to the fact that urban areas are more illuminated at night generally.
One year after the surprise launch of Sputnik, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was founded. The U.S. space program was determined to be markedly different from the Soviets — it would be an “open program” in which facts and data would flow freely between the agency and the public using an extensive public relations program, explain authors David Meerman Scott and Richard Jurek in Marketing the Moon: The Selling of the Apollo Lunar Program (public library). It was a radical proposition: NASA, not the military, would release information and information would be released before, not after, a mission — an antithesis to the typical military strategy of confidentially. Tragedy would be reported alongside success.
Despite the somewhat cynical title, Marketing the Moon is not simply a story of the “selling” of the space program or the “spinning” of the NASA public relations machine — rather, it’s a rigorous and unvarnished look at one of the largest and most successful disseminations of science education in the twentieth century.