On Wednesday afternoon, NASA interrupted the daily news cycle’s perpetual scroll of doom with some fun news: a “major announcement” is coming—about the moon! The announcement, the space agency said, would arrive the afternoon of Monday, October 26, giving everyone the opportunity to daydream about might be coming.
Whatever it is, this news is especially exciting for Texans, since the moon is spiritually—if not geographically—a part of our great state. Legend has it that the first word spoken on the moon, as former Texas governor Rick Perry was fond of pointing out, was “Houston,” after all. (That story might not be entirely true, but we are sticking with it.) NASA’s home during its heyday was right here, after all, and the speech in which Kennedy announced the American moon shot was made at Rice Stadium. The moon rocks collected during the Apollo 11 mission reside in Houston, and the “capcom” astronauts the flight crew spoke with were talking to them from Johnson Space Center.
What other state could lay claim to the moon? Do not say Florida. There is no evidence of moon alligators.
With all of this in mind, we’ve allowed our imaginations to run free and unfettered, the way that humans of yore once did when gazing upon the moon. What is the big moon news? Let us engage in a flight of whimsy as we speculate scenarios, in order of how likely we believe them to be.
Scenario: Moon Alligators
Since we brought it up, we probably should at least consider this. Are there moon alligators? Probably not! Alligators are reptiles that live in swampy areas and the moon is pretty dry. Humans have been to the moon a number of times now and have seen nary a single gator. We don’t even know what they would eat! Obviously the forthcoming moon news will reveal something at least somewhat unexpected, but this would be a big one.
Likelihood: Very unlikely
Scenario: It’s Haunted
As social media users began speculating on the moon news, this famous tweet from 2018 began recirculating:
nasa employee: oh hey u guys are back early— dustin Couch (@Dustinkcouch) October 30, 2018
astronaut: moon's haunted
nasa employee: what?
astronaut: *loading a pistol and getting back on the rocket-ship* moon's haunted
Is the moon haunted? We have thus far seen no more evidence of this than we have of moon gators, but ghosts are invisible. There could have been moon ghosts up there the whole time and we never knew. Every photo you’ve ever seen of the moon’s surface could be a photo in which hundreds, maybe thousands, of moon ghosts are floating around, haunting every rock and crater. But scientists have yet to prove the existence of Earth ghosts, so how would they find moon ghosts? No human has set foot on the moon since the Apollo 17 mission of 1972, so no astronaut has felt the spine-tingling chill of a lunar specter somehow reaching inside their spacesuit that would lead to this announcement. Still, it’s probably not ghosts.
Likelihood: Unlikely, but not outside the realm of possibility. Who knows if the moon is haunted? Science can’t tell us just yet.
Now we’re talking. The moon is not capable of supporting life as we know it (except maybe tardigrades, the extremely durable lil’ microorganisms that were put there last year when an unmanned Israeli lunar lander crashed), but what if there’s life as we don’t know it hanging out up there? Sure, there’s the lack of an atmosphere, lack of solar protections, wild temperature fluctuations, and lack of liquid water on its surface to consider that make it an unlikely place for aliens to hang out. Whatever form alien life takes, any species to come from another planet will probably have needs similar to our own, which makes the moon an inhospitable place for most potential aliens.
Likelihood: Probably less likely than ghosts, weirdly enough?
Scenario: It’s made of cheese
The phrase “the moon is made of green cheese” is an old one. It dates back to a medieval Serbian fable in which a fox, being chased by a hungry wolf, outwits his ravenous pursuer by convincing him that the reflection of the moon in a nearby pond is a wheel of cheese, easier to catch and tastier. The wolf goes to investigate, and the fox escapes. Dumb ol’ wolf! Since then, it’s traveled the world, becoming a sort of catchall for the kind of thing the gullible might believe. If this is the big announcement coming from NASA, won’t everybody who ever used this phrase in that context be embarrassed!
Likelihood: Gonna go ahead and call this one—it’s not cheese. Where would the milk have even come from? Space cows? Don’t be ridiculous.
Scenario: The moon’s surface is actually 130 feet of soft topsoil, much more than we thought, and we’re still learning what that means
Actually, a Chinese lunar rover discovered this last year!
Likelihood: It’s true, but since this news didn’t resonate much beyond the scientist community, it’s probably not what NASA is about to announce.
Scenario: Nokia is building a 4G cell tower on the moon
Shortly before NASA made its preannouncement about the big moon news, telecommunications giant Nokia announced that it had signed a contract with the agency to build the first lunar telecoms system. Thrilling stuff, right? When the first humans looked up at the sky, saw the moon staring back at them, and thought, “someday, we will know your secrets,” perhaps what they really dreamed of was that someday, their ancestors would get three bars on their iPhone if they paid for a contract that included the moon.
This is probably good news for space exploration, as having better telecommunications infrastructure on the moon will help researchers do their work more effectively—but also, it’s worth noting that there are a lot of people here on Earth (even right here in Texas) who don’t yet have reliable internet service, and we’re putting Wi-Fi on the moon.
Likelihood: They’ll probably end up building this thing, but NASA’s preannouncement noted that it was about a discovery from the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, which sounds like something more than awarding a $370 million contract to a telecoms company.
Scenario: We don’t know, that’s the joy of science
At its height, the space program gave Americans something to aspire to. Yes, there are valid critiques to be made about expending such tremendous resources on something that carries little immediate, tangible benefit—but also, space exploration gives us something to strive for, and new revelations about what our researchers have learned about the stars (and the moon!) feed that excitement.
Whatever NASA announces almost certainly won’t be as dramatic as the more fanciful speculation above, but not only can space exploration make life better for those of us here on Earth (water purification systems, CAT scans, LED lights, home insulation, and baby formula all came out of the space race), but—at the risk of sounding like sentimental Star Trek fans—we’ll posit that a humanity that reaches together for the stars is a better one than a humanity increasingly focused on the things that divide us on this planet.
The very fact that we’re thinking in big terms about scientific advancement right now reminds us that our current, pandemic-stalled lives are not all there is. We may be thrilled by the big moon news, or we may be underwhelmed, but we are members of a species whose curiosity allows us to learn things about a chunk of rock 240,000 miles away. That alone is worth celebrating.
Likelihood: All but certain.