Monday, July 14, 2008
Through the Looking Glass of Time...
In 1968, Richard C. Hoagland was a science advisor to Walter Cronkite and CBS News and an independent science media consultant. At that time, literally just months before Apollo 11 would make the first manned lunar landing, Grumman Corporation (now Northrop\Grumman) the maker of the Lunar Module, issued a press kit to all the media of the day; television networks, newspapers and wire services. Its purpose was to inform the various newsmen of all the crucial facts and figures relating to the Lunar Module; how it was conceived, what it did and how it worked. As an adjunct to this rather dry and technical instruction manual, Grumman hired a young hotshot science writer to compose the part of the manual which dealt with the Moon itself. For this they wanted a touch of poetry, not just the arid facts and figures of the Moon’s diameter and material composition, but also of the lure of Luna herself. They wanted someone to reach deep into the lore of our nearest celestial neighbor and extract that which draws us to her, that which makes the Moon a mysterious and beckoning destination; that which makes her a Face that could launch a thousand missions, Dark and otherwise.
They chose Richard C. Hoagland.
As you read through this decades old essay, you’ll be surprised at how much of what we thought we knew then is now known to be wrong, and how much still has the ringing echo of truth. Just after this was issued, he handed a copy to Sir Arthur C. Clarke, the author of 2001 and then a freshly minted on-air science consultant to CBS News as well. Clarke took the manual home that same night and brought it back to the young Mr. Hoagland the next day with a one word review: “Excellent!”
After reading it myself, 40 years after Sir Arthur, I cannot disagree.
His writing is lyrical and inspiring (did he really use the word “limned?”), as I think the Grumman folks meant it to be, but it is still stylishly, undeniably “Hoagy-esque.” There is at least one clever, interesting little surprise in the essay, a coincidence so obvious that it begs to question whether it is really a coincidence at all. Perhaps it is what Richard likes to call a “resonance” in the Hyperdimensional aether.
Or maybe it’s something more.
Take a few minutes and read it yourself, and let’s see how quickly you can all figure out the surprise I’m talking about. Even if you can’t, you’ll still enjoy the piece, even from the perspective of forty years of lunar history. I know I did.