To the Moon

I Look At a Lot of Articles to find just the right mix for each weekly This is True column. Naturally, the vast majority are discarded, and I have to tell you about one that didn’t make the cut. It has a lot to do with “cognitive processes” …aka thinking.

Florida’s (you know there’s trouble right there, don’t you?) Bradenton Herald newspaper last Thursday ran an article about an Apollo astronaut’s family letting a local museum display a family treasure: the NASA Ambassador of Exploration Award honoring Jim Irwin, the lunar module pilot for Apollo 15.

NASA photo from the moon.
“Remember where we parked.” Irwin with the rover. (Photo by Commander David Scott on 31 July 1971. Mount Hadley is in the background. NASA photo.)

Atop that award is a small piece of moon rock embedded in Lucite, which the reporter described as “clear plastic-like protection,” but that’s not the weird part.

It’s not even that the Irwin family didn’t have a TV during the mission, and had to borrow one to watch dad drive the first lunar rover on the moon. That doesn’t require any advanced mental processes.

Nor that Mary Ellen Irwin-Vickers said that “No, I wasn’t afraid” for her husband’s life on the mission — “Normal doesn’t exist except on your dryer.” Uh, OK… maybe she needs a little more cognitive development, but that’s not the point either.

No, it’s this bit from the article: “While the family wasn’t able to go along on the mission….”

Portrait of astronaut Irwin.
Col. Irwin in his official NASA portrait, late 1971.

Wait. In the struggle to get to the moon, perhaps the biggest scientific rivalry in world history, NASA didn’t make room for every astronaut’s wife and children? Not even in economy?!

The Irwins only had five kids! They were young, and wouldn’t take that much room.

Gob Smacked!

But that’s how utterly stupid that the average American has become — at least in the eyes of newspaper reporters. We have to be told that the astronauts can’t take their wives and children along with them to the moon. And maybe reporter James A. Jones Jr. is correct in what he says with this: that we are that stupid these days. We are becoming a nation of gibbering obliviots.

But there is a way to counter our lack of mental activity. What I say: we must teach our kids how to think, or they grow into adults who can’t.

Not only does society absolutely depend on the ability to think, it’s becoming an issue of national security. Obliviots cannot lead us to any semblance of “greatness.” Only thinkers can. Do you think China and Russia are making sure their children grow up ignorant, and without the ability to work on and correct the problems they face?

Elderly man holding award.
Apollo 8 & 13 astronaut Capt. Jim Lovell went to the moon twice, but never got to land. On his Ambassador of Exploration award, you can barely see the embedded gray, marble-sized moon rock. (NASA photo)

The men and women who got us to the moon — white, Black, Asian, and other — want us to stand on their shoulders, not cower in their shadows.

Turning In His Grave

Col. Irwin was the first of the 12 men who walked on the moon to die …from a heart attack on August 8, 1991 — 30 years ago today — in Colorado Springs, Colo. He was 61, and is interred in Arlington National Cemetery.

Just four of the 12 are still alive as of this writing: Buzz Aldrin, 91 (Apollo 11); David Scott, 89 (Apollo 15); Charles Duke, 85 (Apollo 16); and Harrison Schmitt, 86 (Apollo 17).

Irwin had previously survived cardiac arrest, also in Colorado Springs, in June 1986, and was saved by EMS medics to live another five-plus years. He wasn’t so lucky the next time.

NASA said in 1991 that in pre-flight medical exams, doctors noted Irwin was “prone to slight uneven heartbeats on occasion after exercise,” according to his New York Times obit. Flight surgeons had even observed him having a cardiac arrhythmia (bigeminy) during his Apollo flight.

Determination, purpose, and thinking got us to the moon. It’s past time for the U.S. to go back to those qualities.

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The NASA Ambassador of Exploration Award was presented to his family in 2004.

The Bradenton Herald article: A Piece of Apollo Space History Comes to the Bishop from the Family of an Astronaut, 5 August 2021.

Related:

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18 Comments on “To the Moon

  1. This kind of teaching (don’t think — just listen) isn’t anything new.

    My parents taught me to read when I was a little more than 3 years old. When I was ready for school, Mom and I had to attend a meeting with the Kindergarten teacher to determine whether I was mature enough to go to school. This teacher was definitely of the “listen, don’t think” model. She asked me if I could count to 10. She was quite offended when I said, “I can count as high as you want in English and Spanish and I can also count to 10 in German and Japanese.”

    But the worst experience I remember about her was later in the year. I missed a day being sick. On the day I was absent, she handed out some little story books to each student and told them to take them home and have their parents read the book them. The next day, they could share the story with the class during show-and-tell.

    When I came in the next day, she gave me my little book and gave me the same instructions. But, me being me, I sat down and read my little book myself. When it came time for everyone to share at show-and-tell, I held up my hand. She refused to let me share because my parents didn’t read it to me. She refused to believe that I could read, even when I demonstrated it for her. I ended up moving into a first grade class after she sent me to the principal’s office for bringing a book to school and reading it during nap time.

    How sad that she didn’t realize the joy of opening a kid’s mind (or enjoying one already open!) and standing back to watch what they can do. -rc

    Reply
    • I had a similar experience in the UK. I also learned to read at 3 years old — upside down — thanks to sitting opposite my sister who’s 14 months older and following her finger as she read aloud. I can still read upside down and back to front (mirror writing).

      Due to having a head injury aged 5, I went to a ‘Montessori’ style school, Brambling House (although Montessori wasn’t a thing in 1955), where I was in a small class of assorted children with IQ’s ranging from the 60’s to genius levels. We were able to learn at our own pace, books and lessons were in racks at the front of the class, and as I’d been assessed as having a reading age of 14, naturally, I scythed through the available material, with the result that when the epileptic seizures that had been the result of the head injury went away by age 7 and I started regular primary school, I’d completed most of the schoolwork that I’d be presented with for the next four years.

      I started in the ‘C’ class — the assumption was that kids from Brambling House must be retarded. It took 3 weeks for the teachers to work out that there was nothing wrong with my brain — I had developed asthma and eczema and was pretty weedy — and I was moved into the ‘A’ class.

      I then spent four years bored out of my brain, and began to hate school thanks to being humiliated by the teacher (because of my eczema — I couldn’t get my hands clean) in the first year class and bullied by the other kids for the rest of my school life.

      By the time I was in my final year, aged 16, I rarely spent a full week at school — I was a tardy kid and got into so much trouble for being late, that I’d just not go. I spent a lot of time sitting on a bench in a cemetery, reading — I wound up with a good education, particularly in English Language, and no qualifications at all.

      If teacher today treated a child as I was treated, they’d probably be fired and sued.

      Reply
    • Wow!! I remember when I started kindergarten at 5-years-old….I came home one day to tell my mother that they had a floor-to-ceiling shelving space full of books, but I was not permitted to read them because they were books the teacher would read to the others during storytime, twice a week. There were literally hundreds of books, and even then I knew there would be a lot of books that never got read. Thank God my mom had the wherewithal to not only speak to the teacher (I believe I WAS given permission to ‘borrow’ a book occasionally), but to get me a library card send take me there until I was old enough to walk the 3 blocks myself. ❤

      Reply
  2. This might be more a matter of poor sentence crafting or editing. Instead of starting with ‘while’, ‘because’ or ‘since’ give a better flavor. As would adding in ‘obviously’. And if the ambiguity is in why they couldn’t go, that could well be the reporter’s non-thinking.

    What isn’t clear is how he made impressions of his family’s fingers in the moondust. Impressions are the result of something being pressed into something else. If he took impressions with him, they wouldn’t be able to impress themselves into anything. Did he take fake fingertips made from impressions? That is wholly unclear in the article.

    Reply
    • I read that as he made the impressions of the fingerprints on earth, then brought those impressions (in whatever medium) on the moon next to his bootprint. Not that he made new impressions of the fingerprints in the moon dust.

      Kind of like if he had taken photos of the family and left the photos on the moon.

      Reply
  3. There was another perfect example in my reading this morning. In a CNBC article about the SpaceX Starlink satellite Internet system, there was this: “The satellites aren’t yet equipped with fiber interlinks….”

    Wait… “yet”?! The reporter thinks that at some point, technicians are going into space to install fiber interlinks between the Starlink constellation’s 42,000 satellites?! Smack … my … forehead! No they will not. The satellites will be linked with laser-based communications.

    Sam Shead bills himself as a CNBC “tech correspondent,” yet his grasp of tech seems rather uninformed. Satellites are never connected to each other by “fiber interlinks” (and never will be).

    You want to read about thinking and intelligence? That’s what SpaceX did by snapping up a brand new satellite ground station that’s smack dab in the middle of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales!

    Source, complete with the clickbait words “Elon Musk” in the title: Why Elon Musk’s Starlink Has Set up a Satellite Base on a Tiny Island in the Irish Sea

    Reply
  4. Is it necessary to tell us that “the vast majority are discarded”? You tell us you look at a lot of articles, and we see that only a few are published. Your criticism of this bit of human-interest writing is unfounded.

    This is True is a 27-year-old news commentary column, and I commented on the news. Is it necessary for you to whine about something you’re not required to read, and don’t support? Yet you did it anyway. Huh. -rc

    Reply
  5. I have a different take on this, based on reading the full sentence:

    “While the family wasn’t able to go along on the mission, Jim Irwin brought along impressions of his wife and children’s fingerprints that he left next to his footprint on the lunar surface.”

    This does not read to me like they think people are dumb enough to think family could have gone with. Perhaps the sentence could have been worded better, but to me the point was to tell us that he brought his family’s fingerprints on the mission, because he obviously couldn’t bring his family.

    We differ. Such boners are rampant, such as the other one in my comment above. The lack of thinking, of quality, of professional editing, is all an indication of the declining thought processes in this country — and in my opinion, consumers’ penchant for letting it slide is why it’s sliding ever faster. -rc

    Reply
  6. I agree with Stephen. I think the correct interpretation is “he couldn’t bring his family, so he brought their fingerprints instead”.

    There’s plenty of stupidity in the news, but I don’t think this is an example of it.

    Reply
    • I agree 100% with Randy. The two examples he gave (“While the family wasn’t able to go along on the mission….” and “The satellites aren’t yet equipped with fiber interlinks….”) demonstrate gross ignorance by the reporters, one of whom is a supposed specialist in the field. As Randy has pointed out before, such errors aren’t just a lack of professionalism, they are proof that these reporters don’t know, or don’t care, or don’t have the professionalism to be trusted, which continues the media’s spiral toward deterioration and, eventually, irrelevance.

      Too, it leads to the blithe acceptance that everything that is reported is wrong, so public officials can more easily get away with all sorts of malfeasance by repeating the lie again and again, just as we have seen in recent years. “The media” has an important function in government as “the fourth estate” to report such lies so voters can work to rid these politicians from power, so it’s clear why such politicians want them out of the way.

      Therefore, “is all an indication of the declining thought processes in this country — and in my opinion, consumers’ penchant for letting it slide is why it’s sliding ever faster.” is correct and a cause of grave concern. I appreciate that someone is standing up to it, and for the truth …which is exactly what I would expect from This is True: its very function is news commentary, and Randy does it well.

      Reply
      • Essentially, it’s easy to see why a certain recent occupant of the White House could tweet about the “Lying Press” and have so many people believe him.

        Reply
      • It seems to me it isn’t that the reporter thinks his audience is dumb, but that the reporter is, and that is worrisome indeed.

        Neither is a good state of affairs. -rc

        Reply
  7. I suspect that a lot of these news articles are getting published without being rejected or reworked a few times by a good, rigorous, human editor. I have ranted elsewhere about the shortage of good editors and the difference a good editor can make. Having said that, I agree emphatically with your comments about the need for writers who can both think and write, preferably at the same time.

    Reply
  8. I think I can somewhat understand why the reporter used the WHILE syntax.

    While they could not go to the water park due to rain, they still managed to enjoy themselves at the YMCA pool.

    But I agree that OTHER phraseologies would have been better.

    Reply
  9. Republicans have systematically destroyed the US educational system. I am not surprised that science education is so poor.

    We pulled our son out of school halfway through 2nd grade because the school was so bad. We had him tested in 1st grade. (It took us fighting with the school, because they were paying for it, but by law, we had the right.) He tested in 2nd and 3rd grade for most subjects, 6th grade for science. He was the *first* 1st grader in a tester’s 25 year career who could tell her the difference between fiction and non-fiction. (That surprised me — not that he knew the difference, but other 1st graders did not.)

    Home schooling him through 5th grade was, for us, a great choice. I got to take him to professional nerd conferences and other nerd events.

    We moved to Albuquerque and put him in a private school for 6th, 7th, 8th grade. For high school, we tried charter schools — they were a disaster. We home schooled him for 11th grade, then 12th grade in the public school charter science school. (The actual story is way more complex. Basically, his 10th grade principal messed up so bad, the NM State board of education ended up paying for his college education.)

    We *really* need to revamp and properly fund public education for *everybody*. If we don’t, we will continue to create an ignorant populace. Unfortunately, that is *exactly* what Republicans want. And Democrats still behave like the Republicans have honor.

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  10. Logic and Critical Thinking are subjects that are needed in schools, in the proper context for each particular grade level. Just exposure to the concepts alone might spark something in a student’s mind that will be of help in the future. I feel that I was fortunate to learn these subjects on my own and be able to use them as an adult.

    In anticipation of, rightfully so, teacher backlash on a myriad of issues concerning work load and piling on more responsibility, please know that I understand and support our teachers’ complaints of non-support for their profession.

    Now, about the current state of persons that write newspaper and periodical articles….

    Reply

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