The Slow Way to the Moon – 9.24.21

Dear College of Science Faculty and Staff,

The only part of the movie AD ASTRA I liked was the beginning, a commercial flight to the moon, that seemed pretty accurate. It looked as uncomfortable as regular air travel, except that pillows and blankets ran $500. When you arrived, there was an escalator, a sign at the top reading Welcome to the Moon (0.10-0.22), and security with dogs in the arrival hall. The car ride after was cool, an open rover driving along the dusty moonscape under a pitch-black sky and earth hanging there. It was not clear how long that future trip took, but generally moon flights carrying people run about three days, and a lot of fuel, to cover the quarter million miles from earth.

Did you know though, that there’s a slow way to the moon? It takes around four weeks and uses much less energy. Rather than the straight shot of escaping earth’s gravity and heading on a direct path to the moon, the slow way puts a craft into increasingly wider elliptical orbit around earth, using earth’s gravity to push the apogee further and further from earth, and closer and closer to the moon. Eventually the craft is captured by the moon’s gravity and switches into moon orbit. It’s very clever and although the distance traveled approaches four million miles, the trip costs a fraction of the straight shot.

There’s a lesson there for science research that many of us know first-hand. Hurrying is often not the fastest way to the most productive outcome. Thinking hard, planning, getting critical input into the idea and approach may be a more successful path than rushing to order expensive reagents or instruments. Of course, the slow route has lessons for a more peaceful life, looking around, taking time to find your comfortable place in the world.

This week there was a Harvest moon, the last full moon of summer. I went outside late on Monday night to see it so bright. By naked eye you can just make out the splotches of moon features, and from there the reciprocal is true. Impossible from the moon to see wildfires impinging on giant Sequoias, now wrapped in fire blankets; the still ravaging COVID, and people amazingly refusing vaccines; continuing acts of racism; desperate refugees; starving manatees and ghost forests on the Eastern Seaboard. Maybe it’s good to imagine you’re up there, looking at our beautiful planet with no knowledge of the mess down here. It’s on our shoulders as College of Science and Northeastern University members to take the long route, working to educate, study and administer in ways that are thoughtful, measured and promote solutions, here on earth. Thank you for your positive work, it is truly important.

Best regards,

dean signature

Hazel Sive PhD
Dean, College of Science
Northeastern University
[email protected]
Pronouns: she/her