Forty Years After Apollo, We Still Know More About the Moon Than the Ocean

Lunar exploration becomes a distant memory, while exploring the ocean depths remains just a dream.

At 5:55 p.m. today, it will be exactly 40 years since anyone has been on the moon.

It was at that time on Dec. 14, 1972, that Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt lifted off from the moon’s Taurus-Littrow valley. Cernan was the last person to leave footprints, in wrapping up a moonwalk on the day prior.

(Cernan, Schmitt and Ronald Evans would splash down back on Earth on Dec. 19.)

This anniversary, of course, seems a good time to point out that – although it’s been 40 years since anyone has been on the moon – we still know more about the moon that we know about the oceans.

And, between the moon and the oceans, which of these is more important to life on Earth? Well, the oceans, of course.

The oceans drive our climate and our weather, shape Earth’s chemistry and generate most of the atmosphere (including all that precious oxygen you’ve been breathing). About 97 percent of life on the planet lives in the sea.

Sylvia Earle, the first National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, says it the most succinctly: “No water, no life. No blue, no green.”

Without water, Earth would look a lot like the planet that NASA currently is exploring: dusty, devoid Mars.

This is by no means a criticism of our exploration of space. And it’s offered with the understanding that deep-sea exploration is extremely difficult and expensive. But it’s just a reminder that the more we learn about and understand the “world ocean,” the better we will appreciate and care for it.

“New technologies are needed to map, photograph and explore the 95 percent of the ocean that we have yet to see,” Earle said at a recent conference.

Our understanding the ocean environment – and our impact on it – is more critical than ever, she says, adding that she is haunted by the thought of children in the future “asking why we didn’t do something on our watch to save sharks and bluefin tuna and squids and coral reefs and the living ocean while there was still time.”

Earle, who perhaps has spent more time underwater than any other American woman, will have more to say on this subject in a talk at The Maritime Aquarium next month. Tickets are $35 ($30 for Aquarium members). Get them at www.maritimeaquarium.org or call (203) 852-0700, ext. 2206.

It’s scheduled for Thurs., Jan. 24, three nights before the full moon.

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