Friday, October 1, 2010

No More Trips to the Moon

By Alan Caruba

I turn 73 on October 9th and, to be honest, I feel sorry for anyone who has not lived during much of the last century. In a very real way, America’s Apollo program that put men on the Moon on July 20, 1969 was as an exciting a moment in history as anyone could ask to experience.

On Friday, October 1, a total of 1,100 employees at Cape Canaveral reported to work for the last time. No more space shuttles. No more trips to the Moon. Not even trips to the International Space Station.

In February President Obama called for an end to NASA’s Moon program. In fairness, the U.S. hadn’t put a man there since December 1972, the fifth of the Apollo missions. The spacecraft and Saturn launch vehicles were later used for the Skylab program and the joint American-Soviet Apollo-Soyuz test project.

I can remember John F. Kennedy’s speech to Congress in 1961. “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win…”

In the 1980s I visited Cape Canaveral on assignment for a magazine and had the opportunity to go out to the launch pad. You cannot imagine how big those Saturn launch vehicles were unless you stood there and looked up at the huge structure, realizing that launching a Moon mission or any other is comparable to putting a skyscraper into outer space.

I confess that I always suspected that our space program was actually a cover for our development of ballistic missiles. The idea of going to the Moon was conceived during the Eisenhower administration in 1960 when many of the early decisions about the development of a missile program took shape.

At the time, the Russians had put Sputnik into space in 1957 and had scored a huge propaganda victory. What it said to Eisenhower and others was that the same missiles that lifted it into outer space could be used against any of our cities. By April 1961 Yuri Gargarin, a Russian, became the first person to fly in space. Americans took notice.

Now the only way to get to the space station is aboard a Russian vehicle. How’s that for irony? There’s a lot of talk about developing a new generation of space vehicles and, since we’ve been using technology developed in the 1950s and 60s, that’s probably a good idea.

Or maybe not? Despite all the Star Wars films and Star Trek television shows, I have my doubts about the wisdom of putting humans in space for any reason. Probably the best space project we have undertaken involving humans was the Hubble Telescope, but it has been other unmanned projects, the Mariner, Voyager, and Cassini flights that have told as just as much or more about the planetary system we’re in.

What we know for sure is that humans are not designed to live in outer space because we are creatures of our extraordinary and singular atmosphere, not the black vacuum of space.

Us old codgers must tip our hats to Kennedy and his predecessor in the White House. We must marvel at the engineering and other scientific genius of those who worked for NASA and gave us reason to take pride in being Americans.

We will not make any more trips to the Moon, but we were the first and last to do so. That speaks to the American exceptionalism that today is in doubt because we have a President more likely to apologize for America than to praise it.

© Alan Caruba, 2010

10 comments:

Desertrat said...

Quitting the space effort is quitting the future. Quitting efforts to remain on the cutting edge of science and technology. It was bad enough when we quit on the linear accelerator project in Texas and essentially gave it to the folks in Bern. When coupled with all the other bad-policy decisions, his present foolishness is an admission that our government has no interest in being a world leader in anything except bankruptcy.

Alan Caruba said...

@Desertrat: I agree. I think Obama is going to be remembered for so many bad decisions he may end up making Jimmy Carter look good.

Well, come November 2nd we can begin to put the skids the kid.

Rich Kozlovich said...

Alan,

Many years ago I took my family to see Mickey Mouse. What I enjoyed most was our trip to the Cape. You can’t begin to appreciate what was accomplished without that experience. During the trip we had the opportunity to see a movie about some of the launches, a very emotional experience.

A Canadian company was making a documentary about whether Americans still supported the space program and filmed the audience during the movie we were watching. I don’t know what conclusions they came away with, but the audience was highly touched by the film we saw. You couldn’t help get a little choked up.

Personally there were eras in history that I would have preferred seeing, but I have no illusions about that. Because of the lack of modern technology...I probably wouldn’t have seen a thing. That is what made the space program and so many other events of the last 100 years so great a time period. We got to see them. For the first time in human history everyone had a chance to actually see history being made....everywhere! Including the moon.

I'm only 64, so I havn't seen quite as much as you have, but it has been an interesting trip hasn't it Alan?

Rich K.

Alan Caruba said...

@Rich: There was a time when 64 was "old", now it just means you're catching your second breath with a long road ahead.

That's what the 20th century did for much of humanity, but most are simply unaware of it.

You make a very good point, however, in that we all now get to see much of history, current events, first hand. That is very transformative.

Guy said...

"We will not make any more trips to the Moon, but we were the first and last to do so..."

Don't be so sure Alan. I've heard rumors that China is planning a moon shot ...

The Old Man said...

Not having a self-sustaining human population located off-Terra means the survival of our technologically-based human "civilization" is far too dependent on Kim Jong-Il or I'm-a-dinner-jacket NEVER having a bad day..... Maybe we can take the chance, but a saying regarding eggs-and-baskets comes to mind.

Desertrat said...

My grandfather was born in 1885. At age five he was a "horseboy" as the farmers and ranchers around Hallettsville, Texas, moved cattle toward the coast for winter graze.

So he saw the coming of cars, planes, rockets and men on the moon--along with radio and television. Many and many a change, including the social changes we've seen. He died in 1981.

I was born in 1934. For me, even more changes than he saw, and the time rate of change is increasing.

LarryOldtimer said...

The nation's benefits (spin off benefits) derived from our space program have been huge. As an engineer, I probably recognize the actual benefits better than many.

The biggest mistake our country ever made was the decision to cut way back on aerospace, and depend on advancements in technology from the private sector with a profit motive. Because of various and sundry government laws and regulations, the private sector companies working in competition with other private sector companies for profits simply can't afford to and won't take the financial risks that would result in the advancements in technology that the private sector working on government funded programs can and will do.

We have seen the fiasco of putting large sums of government money into the hands of professors, which resulted in the global warming nonsense. It is engineers, not scientists, who invent, design and build the "things" which are useful to ordinary citizens, if there is an actual goal in mind, such as making manned landings on the moon was.

We are decidedly going in the opposite direction from where we should be going.

Ronbo said...

As is well known in the blogsphere, I'm Pollyanna - one who looks for the best outcome in difficult situations, and it may just be a good thing in the long run that the federal government is out of the manned space business.

For example, private spacecrafts are being developed and will soon take paying customers into space.

Of course, everything - including space travel - depends on the USA remaining a capitalist country, but if it does, space exploration may be the arena for those brave few willing to risk everything to venture into the unknown backed by private individuals and companies, as were many expeditions to the New World financed by London merchants.

Alan Caruba said...

@Ronbo: Speaking for myself, I would not get on any ship that could sail right off the edge of the Earth! That's what happened when the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria looked around and discovered that the fourth ship, the Oy Vey, had disappeared.