Well, that was fun. Where should I walk next?
Well, where should humanity walk next? Mars exploration is great, but I’ve never been less than hostile to the idea that we shouldn’t go back to the Moon because “we’ve been there”. There’s all sorts of ways to argue that’s shortsighted, but let’s just point out the Moon’s surface area is 37.9 million square kilometers. That’s just a little smaller than the continent of Asia. If you wanted to thoroughly understand Asia, would you send twelve men there to spend a total of a couple days each? Fortunately even if the US doesn’t want to return to the Moon, there seems to be good enthusiasm on the parts of Europe and China.
So I think I’ll go for a #MoonWalk.
But let’s make this more ambitious than the #MarsWalk. My plan is a closed route visiting every object that has soft landed (so far) (that we know about) on the Moon. I went so far as to download, configure, make, and install software to solve the Traveling Salesman Problem on a sphere for these objects, and here’s the optimized path:
Per Google Earth, the total distance is about 10,627 km, or about three times the length of the #MarsWalk. Should take roughly five years, if I keep the same sort of pace.
I considered adding in some significant not-so-soft landings like Luna 2, first spacecraft to reach the Moon; Ranger 4, Hiten, SMART-1, Moon Impact Probe, and Chang’e 1, respectively the first American, Japanese, European, Indian, and Chinese spacecraft to hit the Moon; and Luna 10 and Lunar Orbiter 1, the first Russian and American probes to orbit (and later de-orbit) the Moon. But… that would make for a really long walk. Especially since Lunar Orbiter 1 hit in the middle of the far side, and Moon Impact Probe went down almost right on the south pole. Ten years worth of distance seemed more than I wanted to commit to.
My starting point is the westernmost one, at 7.08°N 64.37°W, the site of the first successful lunar soft landing: Russia’s Luna 9 on 3 Feb 1966, just over 51 years ago. Luna 9 touched down between two craters, Cavalerius and Galilaei, in what is now known as Planitia Descensus — “Plain of Descent”, in Luna 9’s honor.
Go there in Google Earth and you find a 3-D model of the lander.
According to Wikipedia this was Russia’s twelfth attempt at a soft landing. (Space is hard.) Attempt number eleven, Luna 8, impacted only about 75 km away. Luna 9 took photos, measured radiation levels, and didn’t get swallowed up in a deep layer of dust, all of which benefited later human exploration. It lasted three days on the surface.
So that’s the starting point. By the way, in the next four years there should be more soft landings. China is planning Chang’e 5, 4, and 6 (in that order). India has Chandrayaan-2 with a lander and rover. Japan has SLIM. And at least one private company, Astrobotic Technology, is aiming to carry three Google Lunar X Prize rovers to the surface on one lander. I’m reserving the right to modify the route to visit some of these… or to ignore them. Chang’e 4, for instance, is supposed to land on the far side; I probably won’t go there. Chang’e 5’s landing site was just announced, though, and it’s not very far off my preliminary route. But if I head north from Luna 9, I think I’d probably walk past it well before the probe lands there.
So instead I’m heading southeast! 3250 steps today, 2.3 km, after the conclusion of the MarsWalk bike ride. Next stop, Surveyor 1, 700 km from Luna 9.
Note: I’ll reblog this post on Doctroidal Dissertations, but from here on, follow at my new Walking In Space blog.
MoonWalk kmz file (for Google Earth — View >> Explore >> Moon)