Full Moon, Half Measures

Week in Review / by Evan Lerner /

As the world turned its attention to the moon, politicians tried to figure out how much it will cost to save the Earth and who is responsible for footing the bill.

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Illustration: Joe Kloc

The Moon dominated the news this week with several historical events, though other celestial bodies got in on the act as well. On Sunday, an amateur astronomer noticed that something had made a dent in Jupiter’s dense atmosphere. NASA later confirmed the strike had occurred, echoing the supposedly once-in-a-lifetime Shoemaker-Levy comet’s impact 15 years ago. On Wednesday the sun was obscured over much of Asia in the longest total eclipse of the century.

And though coverage of these events was mostly limited to the science media, on Monday the rest of the world turned its attention from one famous moonwalker to a pair of them for the 40 anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing.

While new generations were able to relive the day via Twitter, YouTube, and GoogleEarth, the commemorations were sometimes bittersweet as they called into focus two great passings. First, was the death of Walter Cronkite, who covered the landings for CBS, and in doing so further etched his presence into the great events of the last half-century. Second, the death—or deep hibernation—of manned missions to the Moon and beyond; it’s been almost 35 years since humans have done anything of the sort. 

The anniversary—and the question of when humans will next travel beyond our orbit— was the perfect opportunity for NASA’s new director, Charles Bolden, to introduce himself, which he did at his first major staff meeting on Tuesday. Bolden, who reportedly was all verklempt while recalling the sheer wonder of his agency’s past achievements, made a bold and equally emotional statement regarding the future in a later interview: He would be disappointed not to see human beings reach Mars in his lifetime. But don’t let the stock photo of Bolden that accompanied news items about his nomination fool you—the director is now 62 years old. Factor in the year or more of travel time and the launch window that only opens every 26 months, it looks like Bolden has his work cut out for him (barring the invention of warp drive, of course). 

But speaking of “Star Trek,” one of the show’s alumni was in the news this week. On Monday’s edition of “The View,” Whoopi Goldberg—who played the Enterprise’s mystic bartender Guinan—raised some hoary Moon landing conspiracy theories. And while there is some confusion as to whether Goldberg really takes those theories seriously, Neil deGrasse Tyson should probably have a sit-down with her in the near future, considering she is narrating the new show at his planetarium. He could at least tell her to be careful around Buzz Aldrin.   

Clinton’s Climate Convo

Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and President Obama’s chief climate negotiator, Todd Stern, took toured India last week in preparation for this year’s Copenhagen climate conference, and were greeted with strong pushback on their proposed international carbon-reduction plans. Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh was frank in saying that India had no intention of signing on to any legally binding agreements. He and Prime Minster Manmohan Singh laid the blame for global warming on the developed world, arguing that the US’s per capita emissions are by far the world’s highest, whereas India’s are among the lowest.

Clinton managed to end her leg of the trip on an optimistic note, saying that despite the chilly reception to US plans, she felt that their exchange had been
“very fruitful,” according to the Washington Post. Stern had a tougher time, having to contend with a surprising demand from his Indian counterpart that the US spend .5 percent of its GDP on Indian carbon mitigation technology, such as renewable energy sources.

Though Stern said the more than $75 billion aid package was “astronomical” and not something the US would agree to, its purpose mirrors that of UK’s new climate plan. Released last Tuesday, the UK’s Low Carbon Transition Plan (.pdf) outlines how the nation plans to meet its 2020 emission goals, with the focus largely on clean energy. Two days later, a quorum of US Nobel laureates petitioned the White House to adopt a similar tack with a $150 billion investment in renewables. Current plans, they argue, focus too much on emissions trading to the detriment of technology that will actually reduce the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere.     

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