WASHINGTON, February 28, 2017 — During astronaut John Glenn’s first orbital flight in 1962, he saw what he described as space fireflies glowing and floating around his Friendship 7 space capsule.
Some thought he might have succumbed to the high pressures associated with spaceflight and cracked under the strain. Others thought he discovered a new life form.
Later that same year, fellow astronaut Scott Carpenter accidentally banged his helmeted head against Aurora 7’s bulkhead and witnessed the same phenomena outside his capsule. It turned out the so-called “fireflies” were nothing more than light-reflecting ice crystals. They formed after moisture vented from the cockpit froze and clung to the craft’s exterior. In other words, the fireflies came from the craft’s sweaty occupant.
It was the first inkling that a lot of strange things happen in space.
In 1969, as Apollo 10 entered lunar orbit and transited to the dark side of the moon, the astronauts heard what they called “weird music” over their radios.
“You hear that?” one astronaut asks a fellow crew member, “That whistling sound? Whooooooo!” reads a transcript of mission communications that was declassified in 2008.
Since the moon has a very weak magnetic field, the so-called music is not likely radio emissions as those that come from the planets in our solar system. The cause of the moon sounds remain a mystery.
Last Monday, billionaire CEO of SpaceX Elon Musk announced that his company will allow two paying passengers to fly aboard the Dragon Version 2 manned spacecraft when it orbits the moon sometime in late 2018.
“We are excited to announce that SpaceX has been approached to fly two private citizens on a trip around the moon late next year,” Musk announced on his company’s website. “They have already paid a significant deposit to do a moon mission. Like the Apollo astronauts before them, these individuals will travel into space carrying the hopes and dreams of all humankind, driven by the universal human spirit of exploration,” said Musk.
Back in 2001, American businessman Dennis Tito paid the Russian space agency $20 million to hitch a ride aboard a Soyuz spacecraft bound for the International Space Station.
Since U.S. manned space-flight ended under President Obama, the Russian government has charged the U.S. $70 million each to send American astronauts to the floating boondoggle orbiting 249 miles above the Earth.
Though SpaceX did not reveal the names of the private citizens destined to repeat the exploits of Apollo 10, it did say lift-off “will be from Kennedy Space Center’s historic Pad 39A near Cape Canaveral—the same launch pad used by the Apollo program for its lunar missions.”
In 2014, Musk invited the curious to the unveiling of his manned spacecraft at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorn, California. The ship is remarkable in that it is designed to use retrorockets to land on terra firma “with the precision of a helicopter.”
Also remarkable are the craft’s eight SuperDraco engines, which produce 120,000 pounds of thrust each and are 3D printed.
The unnamed SpaceX astronauts will only orbit and not land on the moon before returning to Earth.
It’s been 45 years since brave Americans last set foot on the lunar surface. But it’s increasingly more likely a new crop of Americans will press their boot treads into the soft powder of the lunar surface—the well-heeled space tourist.
Apollo 11’s Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, veteran combat pilots, did not land their trusty lunar module on the lava plains at Mare Tranquilitatis (Sea of Tranquility), making their “giant leap for Mankind,” without packing heat.
That’s right, they were armed.
Because you never know what might be lurking behind the next moon rock – whoooooing.