Article by Carley Prendergast – Have you ever wondered what the deal is with that giant ball of cheese in the sky? The Moon, as we earthlings call it, has long been associated with mythology and surrounded by secrecy. This mythology is investigated in-depth in Robert Stone’s documentary on PBS, “Chasing the Moon.” Let’s embark on a myth busting journey, uncovering surprising and potentially frightening facts about the Moon!
Let’s start off with one of the most shocking facts of all. Let’s talk about Project A119. If you believe the Moon is always protected from nuclear disaster, think again. At the start of the Cold War, a top-secret project was conjured up by the U.S. Air Force. At that time, Soviet competition was prevalent, with rumors of their plans to detonate an H-bomb on the Moon. President Eisenhower was notified that the U.S. was falling behind the Soviets in the department of advancing missile technology. As a result, U.S. Air Force officers approached a respected physicist, Dr. Leonard Reiffel, inquiring about the actual possibility of detonating a nuclear device on the Moon. These officials envisioned a mushroom cloud spouting out from the Moon, proving U.S. strength and power to the Russians. However, after a lengthy report on the pros and cons of this plan, Project A119 was cancelled in 1959 due to the universally negative impact it would’ve caused. Though everyone is surely thankful that this plan was not carried out, the entirety of this information wasn’t even released to the public until the late 1990’s.
Our second stop is the side of the Moon that we don’t get to see, the dark side. A wildly popular album by rock band Pink Floyd, yes, but an actual place on our natural satellite? We’ll break it down for you. The proof shines through in how the sun illuminates the Moon during its orbit. The Moon rotates on its axis in the same amount of time that it takes to orbit the Earth, resulting in only one half of the Moon being visible to those on Earth. This whole phenomenon is caused by the tidal relationship between the Earth and the Moon with the two bodies’ gravitational interaction maintaining the rhythm of our oceans. Since we can only see one side of the Moon from Earth, much mystery surrounds the alternate side. The truth is the dark side of the Moon is a myth. The infamous “dark side” isn’t any darker or lighter than the side we see; it receives sunlight too!
Now that we’re aware of its strong connection with Earth, one question lingers. Will this Moon connection last forever? The fact of the matter is, the Moon is moving slowly away from Earth, becoming about an inch farther each year. This movement occurs due to the tidal interaction between the Earth and the Moon. The gravity exerted by the Moon slows the Earth’s rotation, while Earth’s gravity exerts a pull causing an expansion in the Moon’s orbit. Though it is hard to solidify what the future holds, it’s quite unlikely the Moon and Earth will separate. Even in the likelihood of this occurring, it’s billions of years away.
Next, let’s shift our focus to those who’ve traveled to the Moon. More than two thirds of all current and former astronauts have been involved in scouting. Twenty of the 24 men who traveled to the Moon on the Apollo 8 and Apollo 10, spanning across 17 missions, were scouts! Additionally, 11 of the 12 moonwalkers were scouts. Yes, even Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin! To top it off, all three crew members of Apollo 13 were involved in scouting as well. Clearly the skills learned in the scouts have helped produce some of the most accomplished people in history.
Finally, we’ll expand to another one of the facts surrounded by secrecy. Have you ever heard about the plaque, memorializing fallen astronauts, that was placed on the Moon? This plaque, along with a figurine of a fallen astronaut, was placed in the lunar soil by both the commander and lunar module pilot of Apollo 15. The plaque memorializes 14 NASA astronauts and USSR cosmonauts who were killed during the exploration of space. Due to the secrecy of the Russian space program at the time, two names of deceased USSR cosmonauts were unknown at the time and therefore left off the plaque. Additionally, the entire act of placing this plaque upon the Moon was relatively secret and not mentioned publicly until a later date.
“Chasing The Moon” continues July 9th and 10th at 9:00 p.m. on WCVE, WHTJ, and WVPT PBS.