The morning alarm trinkled: Dawn’s misty summons. I got up, wondering why the nights passed so quickly, hoping for a little more precious sleep in the mornings. I stepped out of my bed and gingerly peeked out the window. Dawn was doing the same thing – trying to sleep in a little more, while the moon shone high above the tree tops, bathing the surrounding clouds in a magical shroud of moonbeams. The dew drops on the trees glistened in the same benign light. I stood there shivering a little for the night temperatures had dipped, and there had been a mild drizzle.
The moon is there every night, the sun rises every morning, and yet the moments of quietly standing there before the hustle and bustle of our days started made me appreciate everything a little more sharply. When the son woke up, I held a finger to my lips not ready to start talking just yet, and made him peek out at the fine moon too. His eyes widened a little at the beauty of the morning, dew drops, trees, clouds and the moon. He chattered in his bright tones that sent the waves of sleep flying from him, “Did you know? We may not be able to enjoy the view of the moon for very much longer?”
“Why?” I asked in spite of myself.
“Well… we are already working on building colonies on the moon. Soon, the moon will be full of houses just like ours, and then who knows how the moon will look from here?”
“Who told you that?”
“Okay….where did you read that?” So much for quiet mornings bathed in contemplation.
“In the Time for Kids magazine. It seems we are already planning on moving there.” he said a tinge worried that I hadn’t received his original memo in my sleep addled state.
“Well…for all the things we have built on Earth, from outer space, it still looks beautiful you know? Maybe it will be the same for the moon. Although, I am not sure I am happy with the idea of looking in on someone’s home like that. Wouldn’t it be creepy?!”
I was reminded of the essay by Oliver Sacks in the book, Everything in its Place: Who Else Is Out There?
In it, he starts with his thoughts on the book, First Man on the Moon by H.G.Wells.
Anybody Out There?- Oliver Sacks essay
“One of the first books I read as a boy was H.G.Wells First Man on the Moon. The two men, Cavon & Bedford lie in an apparently barren and lifeless crater just before the lunar dawn. Then as the sun rises, they realize there is an atmosphere – they spot small pools and eddies of water, and then little round objects scattered on the ground. One of these , as it is warmed by the sun, bursts open and reveals a sliver of green.’A seed! “says Cavor, and then, very softly, says ‘Life!”.They light a piece of paper and throw it into the surface of the moon. It glows and sends up a thread of smoke indicating that there is oxygen.
This was how Wells conceived the prerequisites of life: water, sunlight (a source of energy), and oxygen. “A Lunar Morning” was my first introduction to astrobiology.”
While it is interesting for us to dream of conquering alien worlds and expanding our footprint with habitable planets, such as K2-18b circling a red star called M Dwarf; it is also highly interesting to see that even on Earth that is our original home, we require a very specific set of circumstances for our life to thrive. We need our oxygen levels to be exactly right, our carbon dioxide levels to not rise too much, we need our microbiomes to be in a particular state of harmony with the larger ecosystem.
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Take for instance, this excerpt from cosmonaut Alexei Leonov – the first man to walk in space for 12 minutes. Excerpt :
“I decided to drop the pressure inside the suit … knowing all the while that I would reach the threshold of nitrogen boiling in my blood, but I had no choice” Leonov said
I enjoyed Oliver Sacks’ footnote, for in one sentence, it reconciled both the resilience and delicate nature of our entire species.
“If Wells envisaged the beginning of life in the The First Man on the Moon, he envisaged its ending in The War of the Worlds. where the Martians, confronting increasing desiccation an loss of atmosphere on their own planet, make a desperate bid to take over the Earth (only to perish from infection by terrestrial bacteria). Wells, who had trained as a biologist, was very aware of the both the toughness and the vulnerability of life.”
How many species have left behind their fleeting impressions on the cosmic playground? Our own are laughably recent. Will the Quod-liop-tukutuk-sfaunusaurus call us by the same name when they dig up our remnants millennia from now?