SECTION FIVE

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COLUMN SEVENTY, APRIL 1, 2002
(Copyright 2002 Al Aronowitz)
RETROPOP SCENE:
THE MAN ON THE MOON

On Sheridan Square a billboard is still insisting on Herman Badillo for Mayor. Across Seventh Avenue, the junkies are nodding out on the park benches while children play tag. You look up into the heavens and all you can see is the clammy gray overcast of the city. The dawn of a new age? Somewhere up there, they have grabbed off a piece of the moon and they are bringing it home to this.

The biggest mystery of the day concerns the cause of Tom Seaver's sore arm. Is man ready to live on Venus? For the first time, the government scientists have begun to tell us that the real reason for our space program is the colonization of other planets.

According to Professor Leo Goldberg, chairman of the astronomy department at Harvard and head of the NASA Astronomy Missions Board, "We are going to Mars well before the end of the century." In the 55 Bar, I have to listen to some girl complain because the Transit Authority has gone on a Sunday schedule.

Since time began, man has worshipped the moon and looked to it for his


The Blind Hippie
begs for the cost
of a pair of sunglasses


visions. Now that man can bring the moon down to earth in a box, do the visions matter any more?

On Broadway, I walk past the Blind Hippie, who stands begging with eyeless sockets to oblige us for at least the cost of a pair of sunglasses. I wonder, when was the last time he saw the moon?

On the radio, Jerome Weidman says Dr. Robert Jastrow must be joking when he suggests we're going to build cities on Mars. Dr. Robert Jastrow is director of Space studies at NASA's Goddard Space Center, and when Jerome Weidman says we should have spent the Apollo money to feed the poor, Dr. Jastrow asks is it any less humanitarian to give our overcrowding world a place to go?

In Martin's Bar on East 86th Street, they're saying Teddy's finished. Teddy Kennedy, that is. Is an astronaut going to be our next President? We live on a planet too fertile to support itself and on the Upper West Side kids have to drink Kool-Aid because their families don't have enough money to buy soda pop.

I have seen my own seven-year-old son cry at the sad ending of a science-fiction movie. Now Neil Armstrong sticks a tube into the surface of the moon and says the soil feels almost wet. Professor Thomas Hold of Cornell University thinks it might be water. Professor Edward Anders of the University of Chicago thinks it might be oil.

In the rain in Central Park the other night, three Pan Am stewardesses took more than a thousand reservations for future commercial flights to the moon. Has oil millionaire entrepreneur Clint Murchison died too soon?

'there may be some form of water," says Professor Goldberg, "perhaps frozen in the subsurface. If there is, that would be a very momentous discovery. The moon would have its own built-in source of power."

Power?  If there is water on the moon, then man can give the moon an atmosphere. The trip to Mars would take only three months longer---by normal means of propulsion. Beyond Mars is science-fiction, space travel at velocities approaching the speed of light. That's where Professor Goldberg comes in.

"If we are going to learn the source of that kind of energy," he says, "we are going to learn it by studying the stars."

Professor Goldberg's job is to put an observatory on the moon.

"We've got to study the quasars," he says, 'the very long radio waves, longer than 30 feet, radiating over the whole spectrum, radiating enormous quantities of energy by a process we don't understand yet."

There is a Lil Boy lce Cream truck in front of the Time-Life Building on Sixth Avenue while tourists inspect the lunar module next to the multi-colored fountains. On the West Side Drive, a car is burning brightly, blocking the southbound lane and in the Lion's Head Restaurant, two writers are trying to figure out where science-fiction can go next.

'the science-fiction writers are in a bad way," says Professor Goldberg. 'they've got to deal with situations that currently are considered impossible."

It is July 21, 1969. Only a few days more and we'll have a TV camera on Mars. In the meantime, Terrible Andy is out looking over the prostitutes and the three astronauts are bringing home the moon to this.  ##

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