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NASA and Charles W. Gehrke September 14, 2011

Posted by diannaobrien in Uncategorized.
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Today’s NY Times article about NASA announcement about developing a powerful rocket to take astronauts into deep space could make it easy to forget how uncertain space travel even to the moon once was.

The history of NASA’s early plans to land on the moon is part of the still to be published autobiography of Charles W. Gehrke, From the Melon Fields to the Moon.

In researching for the book, I found a recording of an interview of Charles for a University of Missouri radio program called “University Up-Close.” The program is archived and made available by University Archives, Division of Special Collections, Archives and Rare Books of the MU Libraries at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

In the program, Charles says,

“I doubt there’s much question that what we might find will be either one of two things: We’ll find absolutely nothing except for a bunch of rocks with all the inorganic material in them or it will be at the other extreme, that there will be considerable organic materials in these samples as well as even the possibility as rather complex organic molecules. I really believe we will find these molecules.” (Material provided by the University Archives, University of Missouri-Columbia.)

Today, we take it for granted there’s no life on the moon and no danger of killer germs from our nearest space neighbor, but at the time, when the first person walked on the moon on July 20, 1969, things weren’t as certain.

But what’s important is that Charles and his team of scientists — like those at NASA today — persevered despite the unknowns at the time. That’s a powerful lesson Charles’ autobiography can still teach us, that it is persistence that makes the difference between success and failure.

 

 

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