At the tail end of the Falcon’s stay on the lunar surface during Apollo 15, astronaut David Scott performed one of the most profound science demonstrations in history.
Before you watch the video of this experiment, you’ll have to go back to your childhood. I’m sure many of you have heard the apocryphal story of Galileo dropping two spheres, with different masses, at the same time from the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I like to think that this demonstration took place. Whether it was an actual experiment or a thought experiment, it was done to disprove Aristotle’s theory that the speed an object falls is related to its mass.
Galileo’s work helped humans push the boundaries of physics during his lifetime and beyond. It’s fitting then, that this demonstration was eventually carried out, just in a way that Galileo probably couldn’t have imagined. This quick and compelling demonstration of physics was carried out during a moonwalk on Apollo 15.
Astronaut David Scott held a hammer and a Falcon feather in his bulky space-suited hands. After a brief explanation of what “Mr. Galileo” achieved, Scott dropped both items at the same time. The moon’s negligible atmosphere meant that the objects could fall at the same rate, precisely how Galileo predicted they would.
The allure of human spaceflight lies in us being able to imagine ourselves out there, on another world.
The Apollo astronauts contributed to science and society in a way that humans have yet to replicate. That’s not a slight at the ISS, the Shuttle Program, or missions like Skylab. The allure of human spaceflight lies in us being able to imagine ourselves out there, on another world. Being stuck in Low Earth Orbit isn’t nearly as inspiring as exploring the surface of another world.
We have robotic explorers that can send back readings more accurately and consistently than a human can. We have rovers that can keep going and going (except for when a massive dust storm hits, fingers crossed for Opportunity) and spacecraft like Juno that can dive into the radiation filled environment around Jupiter. These are incredible machines. However, they will never be able to relate to humans as other humans can.
Scott’s physics demonstration tied in history, science, and education. A combination I’m looking forward to seeing more often as humans explore the Moon, Mars, and beyond.