Saturday, April 16, 2011

Ode to ALSEP

Today is April 16th. 2011. In this day in 1972 a 36 story tall Saturn V rocket carrying John Young, Ken Mattingly, and Charlie Duke lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, bound for the moon on the Apollo 16 Mission that would see two astronauts land in the lunar highlands of Descartes.
The astronauts brought with them a number of Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Packages (ALSEP), powered by radio-isotope thermoelectric generators, designed to continue gathering data on seismic activity, the solar wind, the amount of heat flowing out of the moon's interior, and relay that data to scientists on Earth. Although still fully functional, all of the ALSEP equipment was shut down by remote control from Earth in 1977 when the program ran out of funds to receive and process the data.

     Here is a poem I wrote in remembrance of the ALSEP.

With all the world waiting
We turned our eyes skyward.
Remember that day when we all looked through
Our electric windows on the universe,
Seeing old spheres from a new point of view?

Three times again, and again, and again,
Descending on dancing flames,
They scurried, slow-motion, through ancient dust
Who still now remembers their names?

They did the unthinkable, achieved the impossible,
Went where none had preceded, and more.
"Ho-hum! ...another launch, you say?
Is football on Channel Four?"

Mechanical colonists left behind
When we blasted back home in our ships
Drew life in their bellies from shattering atoms,
Energizing electronic chips.

They sensed the heat of ancient fires,
Moon-embers, banked deep inside.
They felt the star-bits streaming,
And the rumbling silent tide.

ALSEP voices, talking to Earth
In chattering bits and bytes
Sent their colonial treasures back
Through the lunar days and nights.

They measured the limb-shocked solar winds,
Changing the charges in sputtered lands,
And vibrating signals crossed the void,
Twitching inked fingers on metal hands.

The footprints and tire-tracks, unchanging, remain.
Like paths to the future, they glisten.
Solipsistic sentinels converse with themselves,
But there's nobody left who can listen.