I always struggle to explain to students just how exciting the moon landings were in the late sixties and early seventies. For a while I could compare it to Ireland making it to the World Cup in 1990 - only world wide, and genuinely historic. But now I'm dealing with students who don't even remember the not-quite-so-edifying 2002 world cup, never mind 1990 or 1969, and I've given up searching for a comparator. I just tell them it was really, really exciting.
I wonder if it is those wonderful childhood memories that cause me to cast a slightly sceptical eye on recent space exploration. It might be impressive, I'm inclined to think, but it's hardly 'Giant-step' stuff. And I also wonder how much of recent space exploration is driven not so much by science as by a generation now in positions of influence and power all over the world who share those fond memories and are indirectly seeking to recreate their own childhoods. I still love much of the work done by NASA, even if it is a pity to see them farm so much work out to the lowest bidder. But are Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk really contributing to space science, or are they playing out childhood fantasies? Do we really need to send a car to Mars?
I have to say, though, that I found the Chinese Moon Landings quite exciting. Not least the attempt to grow potatoes, yeast and rockcress while there - with a long term view to growing food for scientists working on the moon. When reported on last week, none of the above had sprouted, but a cotton plant had apparently managed to get as far as producing a single leaf before dying. Which could be handy, I suppose, if future astronauts need a new shirt while away from home....
I was most intrigued though to see that some fruit flies eggs had also been dispatched on the Chang'e-4 probe but that scientists had not been too surprised they failed to hatch because fruit flies are 'relatively lazy'.
All summer long, a corner of my kitchen was infested by the little b%^****s. They seemed pretty determined to survive to me, and to hatch out new generations on the flimsiest of fruit supplies. They even seemed capable of surviving a few days in the fridge. I can only conclude that those fruit flies on the moon aren't as tough as the Irish fruit flies.
See the story at the link below, including a good explanation of what they were trying to do - in essence, I think, they were hoping the plants and flies could form a symbiotic oxygen-Carbon Dioxide cycle. Which strikes me as real science. Much more so than sending cars to Mars....