‘Space historian’ talks up lunar exploration at OMSI

Discover why space exploration authority and NASA historian, Andrew Chaikin visited Portland …

The replica of a Gemini space capsule at OMSI seemed like the best location to photograph space exploration authority and NASA historian, Andrew Chaikin.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
The OMNIMAX Theater at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) was filled with people who came to hear internationally renowned authority on space exploration and NASA historian Andrew Chaikin speak, late this summer.

Chaikin’s books include the best-selling chronicle of the Apollo moon missions A Man on the Moon, which served as the primary basis for Tom Hanks’ Emmy-winning HBO miniseries, “From the Earth to the Moon”.
“We look for opportunities to bring acknowledged experts to OMSI,” explained its Communications Director, Lee Dawson. “Talks from authorities like Chaikin enhance our learning programs, and engage our visitors with unique experiences.”

Before presenting his free illustrated lecture, author Andrew Chaikin spoke with us/THE BEE.

Interested since childhood
“When I was five years old,” Chaikin began, “I felt completely in love with the planets – and became completely hooked on astronomy. I was fascinated by the idea that there are other worlds out there that could be visited.  It was right around that time, fortunately, the man started going into space. I remember the Gemini missions – Ed White’s walk in space during the summer I turned nine, in 1965.  I was hooked on wanting to be an astronaut.”

During his last two years in high school, Chaikin said, coverage of the Apollo missions kept him glued to his television. “In college, I studied geology so I could become a planetary scientist, and explore the geology of the moon and Mars. But halfway through college, I decided I didn’t want a career in science.”

Nonetheless, a couple of years after he graduated, Chaikin fell into writing about space exploration “almost by accident. I decided this is where I belong, and I just love doing it.”

America’s space historian
While his publishers tout Chaikin as “America’s Space Historian”, the author said he feels more comfortable with the moniker, “Science journalist/space historian”.

“In Man on the Moon, The voyages of Apollo astronauts, I told the story of the Apollo missions in the words of the astronauts,” said Chaikin. “I interviewed 23 out of the 24 guys who went to the moon – all but Jack Swygert, who died in 1982 – and I got to relive their experiences through their eyes. “I loved it, talking with people like Neil Armstrong, Alan Shepard, Pete Conrad, and Frank Borman for hours at a time.”

Chaikin mentioned that a collection of quotes uttered by astronauts called Voices from the Moon is his most recent book for adults. And, a book for young readers called Mission Control, has just come out. “It’s illustrated with paintings by one of the ‘moon walkers’, astronaut Alan Bean.”

Chaikin says he advocates for more exploration of the moon. “We’ve just scratched the surface.”

Talks up moon exploration
Chaikin stated that this, his first visit to Portland, wasn’t part of any book promotion tour.

“The reason I came here is that NASA has asked me to talk about the upcoming Lunar Impact mission called LCROSC,” Chaikin told us. “That’s ‘Lunar CRater Observation Sensing Satellite’ – I think NASA would die without acronyms!”

The LCROSS mission is a search for water on the moon, he explained. During the mission, a rocket will crash into the moon’s permanently-shadowed southern pole area, hurling tons of debris and potentially water ice and vapor above the lunar surface. “This impact will release materials from the lunar surface that will be analyzed for the presence of hydrated minerals, which would tell researchers if water is present or not.”

Finding water on the moon, Chaikin stated, would be an important discovery, because it could provide a valuable resource for astronauts who could set up a permanent base there.

“The moon is the jewel in the crown of the solar system, scientifically,” asserted Chaikin. “It’s waiting for us to pick up where we left off.  We barely scratched the surface of what the moon has to tell us. We’re an exploring species. If we stop exploring, I truly believe we’d be sowing the seeds of our own decline.”

Dawson noted that OMSI will follow the progress of the LCROSS mission. For more information, see their website at: www.omsi.org

© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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