Saturday, October 3, 2015

One Giant Leap (so far)

Remember Christmas 2014? I do. That's when my mom got me a special non-baseball card set, the 1991 Space Shots Moon Mars set, which I mentioned in this post last year, linking to Fuji's great writeup of the complete 36-card set.

I figured with this weekend's release of The Martian, a movie I haven't seen yet, but which is based on a self-published novel that I devoured in a couple days, that it would be a good time to finally blog about this great little space exploration stocking stuffer. It paired perfectly with this t-shirt my girlfriend got me.

1991 Space Shots Moon Mars #7 Buzz Aldrin - Moonwalk
NASA released this and over 8,000 other images from the Apollo missions on Flickr earlier this week, and it's almost certain that you've seen this image before (even on this blog). This, of course, is Apollo 11 Lunar Module Pilot (LMP) Buzz Aldrin on the moon, taken by fellow moonwalker Neil Armstrong.

You can't tell from the scan, but these cards are printed in pretty high relief, allowing you to feel all the wrinkles in the space suit's fabric, as well as the smoothness of the reflective visor. The back of each card goes into quite a bit of detail (just like a Score baseball card), and also provides another foil-outlined image.

1991 Space Shots Moon Mars #5 Neil Armstrong - Inside LM on Moon
Neil, whose name is forever etched in history, ended up taking most of the pictures that day. He was first out by about twenty minutes, so was better positioned to snap lots of photos of Buzz. But Buzz turned the camera around once they were back inside the LEM and took this one of Neil. Sweaty, exhausted, and brimming with the exhilaration of having just walked on the moon. We all know the history now, but it was anything but a sure thing at the time. Armstrong had only seconds of fuel left when he finally landed the spacecraft.

1991 Space Shots Moon Mars #13 Alan Shepard - Holding Flag
Shepard, the first American in space, and the only one to golf on another world, is seen here holding up the American flag to leave on the lunar surface. By this time, NASA realized it would be a good idea to know which spacewalker was which, so they added these helpful red stripes to the Commander's spacesuit. These were to be deployed on the ill-fated Apollo 13 (which is notably absent from this set), but Shepard was the first to actually use them on the surface.

1991 Space Shots Moon Mars #10 Alan L. Bean - Apollo 12
Many of the lesser-known astronauts are represented in this set, like Apollo 12 LMP Alan Bean, the astronaut from that Goodwin Champions card in my previous post. By the looks of it, this is from the same photo shoot. Those space suits weighed plenty; it must have been kind of unpleasant to stand around all afternoon posing for the camera in them. Of course, without the gloves, helmet, and backpack it's a bit lighter, and especially so on the low gravity of the lunar surface.

1991 Space Shots Moon Mars #19 Jim Irwin - Next to Rover
For the final three Apollo missions, the moonwalkers brought along a convenient rover, allowing them to drive several miles away from the landing site. The only real problems were presented by the flimsy fenders, and of course a bit of duct tape came in handy to fix that.

1991 Space Shots Moon Mars #29 Viking - On Martian Surface
Not only does this set give a great history lesson on the Apollo project, but looks further out in the solar system at another potential target: cold, red Mars. High-tech machinery is absolutely necessary for space exploration, and our robot proxies have done all our exploring on Mars for us. Viking was first to land and return images, even beating the Soviets who were more focused on Venus at the time. This 1991 set predated our earliest wheeled Mars probe by several years, but of course we now have six-wheeled mobile science labs and hardy orbiters discovering all sorts of interesting stuff.

Like, oh I don't know, flowing water.

1991 Space Shots Moon Mars #33 Direct Mission to Mars
A manned mission to Mars is still decades away, and the logistics are one of many huge problems to solve, but one might involve a visit to one of our robotic predecessors like Viking 2, pictured here. Astronauts in more than one Mars movie have thought this was a pretty good idea. In fact, Alan Bean's Apollo 12 landed within walking distance of Surveyor 3, so this idea isn't just for the movies.

1991 Space Shots Moon Mars #28 Space Exploration Initiative
We sent probes to the moon before any human actually landed there (and the Soviets tried too), but the real discoveries started when people started exploring it themselves. We got to bring along tons of scientific instruments and place them precisely, and the rocks discovered by trained geologist Harrison Schmitt helped scientists better understand the formation of the moon.

Who knows what we'll discover once we finally start strolling around on Mars?

1991 Space Shots Moon Mars #1 The Astronauts Memorial
Of course, one can't discuss space exploration without mentioning the risks involved. NASA astronauts have perished, whether in training or on an actual mission. Their names are immortalized on this memorial at the Kennedy Space Center, a powerful place to visit. Tragically, since this card was printed, seven names were added following the loss of the space shuttle Columbia in 2003. I've been there myself, and if you find yourself in Central Florida, I'd highly suggest a visit.

1991 Space Shots Moon Mars #26 Jack Schmitt - With Flag and Earthrise
Exploration of space is a risky endeavor, but the rewards make it more than worth it. I can only imagine what it would be like to walk on the moon and see the Earth look like such a tiny refuge in the vastness of space. Fortunately, we sent twelve men there about fifty years ago, and they had enough presence of mind to frame amazing photographs like this while carrying out their missions.

As they left Earth for this final Apollo mission, they turned around and took this picture of our planet, an image that reminds us just how precious Earth is. It's a view that no human has seen firsthand since 1972, and I hope that we send someone out at least that far within my lifetime.

To steal Neil Degrasse Tyson's phrase, keep looking up.

And enjoy the last weekend of regular-season baseball.


  1. Man. It's crazy seeing some of these photographs. Checking out Earth from someone standing on the moon is so flippin' awesome. Must have set for anyone who can appreciate the whole space exploration scene. Come to think of it... the next time I see these laying around at the flea market, I'm going to grab one for my dad.

  2. Those are sweet. I've always been fascinated by the Apollo program. Don't remember much since I was two when they landed the first time. I just started an astronaut binder for the few oddballs and Americana astronauts I've got. This set is definitely a prime target for that binder now....