A strange thing about the Valera L5 meteorite, besides landing on a cow of course, is that it is currently crossing the bridge of time between recent and historic. October 17, 2022 marks the 50th anniversary of its fall to earth. That timespan is also the physical distance between our last visit to the moon, and our renewed interest in the lunar landscape with the Artemis 1 rocket. As of this writing, the first two launch attempts were scrubbed, and a third launch attempt is scheduled for September 27th. With the crossing of all fingers, and with all nearby wood knocked on, the rocket will launch on schedule heading out to the moon and beyond before returning to earth by dropping a capsule carrying a trio of synthetic passengers plus one Snoopy plush toy into the Pacific ocean under the parachutes that just days earlier were orbiting the moon.
However, prior to the water landing, the Orion space capsule will enter the Earth’s atmosphere very much like a meteorite. Arriving home at 32 times the speed of sound, Artemis will push the reentry limits of our knowledge as well as our technology. The fastest meteors enter about seven times faster than that, but there are plenty of meteorites that arrived at the paltry speed of only one sixth that of the speediest of meteors, or slightly faster than Artemis. But no matter how a rock or a space capsule slices the atmosphere, the speeds are faster than we have every returned something alive from space. The current unmanned record holder is the STARDUST Sample Return Capsule which entered the Earth’s atmosphere at a blazing 37.6 times the speed of sound back in 2006.
The Valera meteorite fell the same year Apollo 17 successfully went to the moon and returned. And it would be the last time humans visited the moon until, well, maybe 2026 if all goes well with Artemis 1, Artemis 2 and of course Artemis 3, the one to carry four humans (not just men this time) to the moon. So even though Artemis 1 has yet to hear “Go for launch,” I hope the return to the moon happens before more recent meteorite falls drift through time into the category I love dearly, that of the historic witnessed fall.
Until next time….And Godspeed Artemis!