Those of us who are over 60 will never forget the chilling words spoken by the Apollo 13 command module pilot, Jack Swigert, and repeated by the mission commander, Jim Lovell, late evening on April 13 of 1970, “Houston, we’ve had a problem.”
An explosion in the service module threatened the lives of the Apollo 13 astronauts. Through herculean efforts on the part of Houston Mission Control engineers and the Apollo 13 crew, all three astronauts returned safely back to Earth. In 1995, Hollywood released a technically accurate Academy-Award-winning movie depicting the dramatic events of the Apollo 13 disaster and the rescue of the crew.
NASA has not attempted a manned lunar mission since Apollo 17 in 1972. However, I think there’s scientific incentive for returning to Earth’s “attic” because of what we’ll find there.
Exploring the Attic
About 15 years ago, I was invited to speak to the scientists and astronauts at NASA’s Houston Mission Control. The Apollo 13 mission control room was preserved in the state in which it operated in April of 1970.
I knew that the NASA Houston scientists and astronauts had forgotten about the Moon and were totally focused on manned missions to Mars. In the first part of my talk I explained why manned missions to Mars would be prohibitively expensive with, at best, a small possibility of sending humans to Mars and back alive. Last year, I wrote a brief update article (“Is Gut-Wrenching Space Travel Possible?”), in which I demonstrated that the small possibility had become an impossibility.
In the second part of my talk I showed how the Moon is a veritable attic filled with treasures from Earth’s early history. Intense meteoroid bombardment of Earth during its youth has sent millions of tons of Earth rocks and soil to the Moon’s surface. One ton of Earth soil contains, on average, 100 quadrillion microbes. Furthermore, calculations show that the Earth material containing our planet’s first life-forms was deposited on the Moon via low-velocity impacts. Therefore, for most of the microbes representing Earth’s first life their morphology (structure) would be undisturbed by the impacts.
Unlike Earth, the Moon has experienced very little geological change throughout its history. Earth’s continual, intense geological activity has obliterated the fossils of Earth’s first life. The Moon, on the other hand, has preserved the fossils of Earth’s first life. I have written two articles, one before my talk at NASA Houston Mission Control and an update afterwards, wherein I cite calculations of the quantities of fossils of Earth’s first life that reside in our lunar attic.
What the Search Will Reveal
I ended my talk at NASA by showing how theists and nontheists have very different expectations on what the fossils of Earth’s first life will look like.1 Theists think Earth’s first microbes will be diverse in size, metabolism, and morphology and will include cyanobacteria with over 1,500 gene products. Nontheists think Earth’s first life will be limited to a single bacterial species no larger than 0.1 micron and containing only a few hundred gene products. NASA, I exhorted, has the opportunity to return to the Moon with a different mission. Instead of mining indigenous lunar rocks, they could recover Earth soils deposited by meteoroid delivery. In those soils will be pristine fossils of Earth’s first life. Thus, NASA has the opportunity to demonstrate who got the origin of life on Earth right, the theists or the nontheists.
At the time of my talk, NASA was facing deep funding cuts. I touted this new lunar mission as a way to restore financial support. Given that theists and nontheists make up 100 percent of U. S. taxpayers, everyone has a vested interest in learning about the origin of life. Knowing what the first life-forms looked like carries implications for evolution and creation.