Moonstruck

It’s probably a surprise to no one that reads this, that I was enamored of NASA, astronauts and space travel when I was youngster.  I watched the later Apollo missions, the docking between Apollo and Soyuz and the first space shuttle launches – transfixed to the TV in a rapt wonder that I have probably never experience since.   I dreamed about what it would be like to walk on the moon, or on better yet, upon the surface of Mars.  Clearly, that was going to be MY generation’s next great leap.

Apparently, something happened along the way to the stars.

Today is the 40th anniversary of the day when a human being first stepped onto the surface of an astronomical body other than the Earth.  I believe it – and the ensuing Apollo program – is the greatest achievement in the history of human endeavor.  Think about that — in 80 years, humans went from riding horses, to standing on the moon.

In half that span, what have we done?  Shouldn’t something just as spectacular and mind-boggling have been attempted and conquered?  I think in these intervening years we have turned inward – we have created a linked-together world where someone on the opposite side of the globe can read these words as soon as I post them.   We have sequenced the genomes of human beings and hundreds of other species.  Either of these accomplishments would have seemed like science fiction to the astronauts and engineers of Apollo – and today they’re commonplace enough that they barely require remark.

But we’re farther away from the moon than any time since 1960.  We couldn’t get there today if we wanted to – and Mars?  Please.  The space shuttle – the program that was supposed to be the stepping stone became the centerpiece of our manned space program.   It was quickly out-dated and overused  — to occasionally disastrous results.  It’s essentially like driving a 1976 Chevy Nova into orbit with an old 386-PC computer to help.   And while our unmanned robots (the Hubble telescope and Mars rovers) have been wonderfully successful, we’re quickly going to be unable to put a man into orbit.  The shuttle program is due to be stopped next year, with no replacement in sight.  The only way we’ll be able to get an American in orbit is to hitch a ride from someone else (like the Chinese or Russians).  How sad is that?  Talk about outsourcing.

And so, this is a day that I’d really like to celebrate the achievement of the Apollo astronauts and engineers – the zenith of human accomplishment – and yet, it’s a very bittersweet day because I wonder what this generation of children dreams about.

Read and post comments |
Send to a friend

Advertisements

19 thoughts on “Moonstruck

  1. Excellent post. It still quite the accomplishment of man stepping foot on the moon. And to think that soon the manned space program will be gone. I guess we've come up with unmanned ways to accomplish everything out there. That's too bad. I think this generation dreams of video games, and myspace, and sports idols and celebrities. That's really too bad.

  2. We're not quite planet-hopping yet, but I think posts like these remind us of events that inspired the power to dream and look ahead towards goals that makes us reach beyond what we thought we were capable of. Happy Apollo Day!

  3. Wonderful post Steve! I guess I'm behind on the news…I didn't know the improbability of going back to the Moon. I still envision space travel! What happened!?

  4. I listened to an NPR interview this morning with Buzz Aldron — you might like it. I was amazed to learn about some of the more personal details of Aldron's life… I hadn't known, for example, that his mother had committed suicide not long before he went to the moon. Crazy stuff.

  5. the other night i had a dream about space travel (all this sci-fi reading before bed is making me dream weird dreams) and when i woke up i was thinking about how we're not any closer to making interplanetary travel happen and how very sad that is.okay, grammatically, that sentence was a nightmare, but you know what i mean, right? :D

  6. Quite sad, I agree. People don't seem to dream about finding aliens the way I did when I was little. My aunt had an old book called Our Universe, great for drumming up enthusiasm. Maybe we just need a few really good alien movies to get us going again :D

  7. Apparently, something happened along the way to the stars.Over on my blog is a short precis of what went wrong and why we are further from the Moon today than we were 50 years ago.John

  8. I heard today for the FIRST time that there are actually people who say it was a hoax. I had never heard this before. I was stunned.excellent post Steve….I have to sadly chuckle at someone's comment about this generation dreaming of video games. I was sitting in a courtroom today for 3 hours and 1 of the domestic abuse cases actually mentioned that one of the items that this 21 year old couple argued over was him playing videos games too much. Sad commentary on today's society huh?

  9. Yes, Buzz Aldrin actually slugged a film-maker who made the mistake of challenging his veracity in person.  See this. The judge wasn't terribly sympathetic to the sluggee… :)

  10. RM — I think it's really true that the virtual worlds of kids today have really placed the imaginary ones that we had to dream up on our own. I mean fantasizing about how many people follow you on Twitter is much better than dreaming of the moon, don't you think?

  11. Amy Sue — what went wrong — great question. In general — short-sightedness, lack of national will once the space-race was "won", politics and some more politics. John has an excellent recap here.

  12. Hapa — yeah, I listened to that — pretty remarkable. Also, I'm always really amazed at how Neil Armstrong has kept himself out of the limelight. It's good to see that everyone isn't consumed with celebrity and making a buck!

  13. kelly — oh, the hoax thing has been alive and strong for decades. In 1999, there were 6% of Americans that did not believe we landed anyone on the moon. In other countries, that number has been estimated to be 25-30%.There was movie made in the late 70s about a hoaxed Mars landing, called "Capricorn 1", OJ Simpson was in it. It was actually pretty good. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter this past year took high resolution pictures of all the landing sites — but of course to non-believers, they're faked too.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s