By Alan Caruba
It tells us something about our limitations that the latest effort to send a new batch of nameless, faceless astronauts to the International Space Station was delayed several times by nothing more than some inclement weather bearing down on Cape Kennedy.
Oh yes, you can go to the Moon, but only if it isn’t raining.
I recall the excitement that President Kennedy’s announcement created when he said the U.S. would go to the Moon, but the real reason we went was to get there before the Soviet Union. It was about two empires butting heads and, of course, the U.S. won and the Soviet Union is no more.
So there is some irony to be had in the fact that, with the retirement of the current fleet of space shuttles, the only way to get to the Space Station will be via the Russian vehicle, the Soyuz.
There was even more excitement when Neil Armstrong stepped out of the Apollo lunar module onto the Sea of Tranquility. “One great leap for mankind,” said Armstrong who thereafter leaped into anonymity, rarely granting interviews because this courageous test pilot is painfully shy. It was left to the ebullient Buzz Aldrin, the second man to step foot on the Moon, to keep the memory alive.
The U.S. has never returned to the Moon. Why?
Because, other than the demonstration of American technological superiority, there simply is no good reason to return. There isn’t a damned thing on the Moon worth the bother. The Moon, it seems, is best left to the poets.
In truth, NASA’s unmanned probes have visited all of the solar system’s planets and the agency has most certainly engaged in a lot of serious science, but it is also true that there is not much reason for humans, so utterly dependent on Earth, to leave.
If a few rain clouds can delay a shuttle, travel to planets where water doesn’t even exist seems an odd, exorbitant, and futile project.
There is a scene in Tom Wolfe’s book, “The Right Stuff”, in which the initial Apollo crew demands that the lunar module have windows. They were all test pilots and they all understood the need to be able to visually orient the craft if anything went wrong. As it turned out, Armstrong had to manually fly the module to its landing on the Moon because its instruments went a bit cockeyed on him.
Another manned flight is estimated to cost somewhere in the area of $100 billion and, considering the way the present administration is running up the national debt, that’s still a lot of money. Strip away the romance of manned flight and the truth is that space probes have long since sent back more information about our little galaxy than putting some human space puppet in jeopardy.
What does the fortieth anniversary of Apollo II tell us?
It says we had more guts, more smarts, more need to prove ourselves to the world in 1969 than we do today.
It says we have an illusive, asymmetrical, new enemy on Earth who’s more interested in blowing up office buildings in lower Manhattan, trains in Spain, and hotels in Indonesia than reaching for the Moon.
In 2009, America needs to prove it will outlast a desert cult, keep pace with the rise of Asian nations, prop up a dying Europe, and get its own people back to work as soon as possible.
The Moon’s not going anywhere.