The news this morning tells us that NASA is planning to drive two spacecraft into the moon's southern pole, hoping the impact will reveal whether there is hidden water ice there. The idea is cheap, fast, and well-designed. Speaking as a friend to engineers, I don't think the small impact is likely to do any more actual damage than a couple of meteorites would: and the moon is already covered with craters. And as Tony Colaprete at NASA's Ames Research Center was quoted as saying, this is a thoroughly "economical" solution. I played engineer's advocate with our art editor this morning and received for a response:
I still think hurting the moon is no-no. She is the symbol for our lady (call her what you will: Mary, Isis, Hera).
And I have to admit, speaking as a poet and student of folklore rather than as a friend to engineers, I'm appalled at the symbolism of the act. It's actually rather a barbaric and typically-NASA/white-male-engineer notion. If you think about it, slamming a long metal phallic object into our lady's vulnerable place sounds an awful lot like a rape. So much for kindly orbiting and courting the moon prior to a gentle thrust through the thin barrier of her barely detectable atmosphere. I don't like the symbolism of this new trend in space exploration. Consider how much our cultural consciousness was defined by past symbolic acts of astronomical exploration - Armstrong's one small step, for instance. We cannot pretend ignorance to the effect that our symbols have on our minds and hearts. To quote Gene Wolfe, author of The Book of the New Sun:
We believe that we invent symbols. The truth is that they invent us; we are their creatures, shaped by their hard, defining edges.
So it was with the symbolic action of that one small first step onto the moon - with Armstrong's words conveying both the humility of that one step and the pride in the achievements of a race. Now, as we struggle to come to terms with the way we are using and misusing our natural environment, what will be the eventual cultural penalty of a more symbolically violent act?
My intent here is not to sensationalize (the media has already done that well enough) - merely to recognize that the moon is a central folkloric and mythic figure, remaining so even today, and therefore the way in which we interact with the moon will have rippling effect on our understanding of ourselves and of the inter-relationship of ourselves and our world. I'd be curious to hear responses from both poets and astronomers, who after all are sisters, and both in love with the moon. And also from everyone else...