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Forty years ago today, at 8:17 PM UTC, the lunar module Eagle touched down in the Sea of Tranquility. Just under eight years and two months after President Kennedy told America that while we could not rest certain of being first, any failure to attempt such an audacious and seemingly impossible feat would make us last, mankind stretched out to touch the stars.

There are many ways to try and put the Apollo anniversary in context. As the legacy of a great man lost before his time. As the height of the Cold War gap between east and west. As a supreme achievement of engineering and the human mind--indeed, it would be hard to overstate the scientific impact of the Apollo Program on every aspect of our daily lives today. The technologies developed and matured as a direct result of the Apollo missions range from the integrated circuits in the computer you're reading this on, to the mylar film in a child's balloon.

In truth, none of these things captures the deepest, underlying spirit that moved human beings on a voyage out from our tiny blue world across a quarter million miles.  

Apollo signifies a repudiation of the idea that there are things we cannot do, problems we cannot solve, dreams we cannot fulfill. It is the glowing beacon in the great murky twilight reminding us that no matter what obstacles we may find, in the new world all our tomorrows are shaping, anything is possible.

That whenever we think we've reached the limits of what the human race is capable of achieving, we need only look up at the night sky to remind ourselves that if we have the will, our hopes may well be infinite.

Or as the quote in the title says: "From now on we live in a world where man has walked on the Moon. It's not a miracle... we just decided to go."  

Originally posted to Adama D. Brown on Mon Jul 20, 2009 at 03:39 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Thinking ahead to a space economy (5+ / 0-)

    One of the things to remember about Apollo is that it was basically done on a shoestring.  It was out at the limits of our capabilities, and it was done on the narrowest of margins.  We weren't able to extend what we did with Apollo, e.g. with permanent moon bases or further exploration beyond Earth orbit, because that was beyond our capacities and we never extended our capacities.  For instance, in the mid-1960s we shut down our Saturn plants and never produced any more.  The whole of our space program from 1967 to 1975 was based on this limited series of rockets that had already been built and was no longer being produced.  That was obviously not a firm foundation to build a space program any more.  We could have gotten, at most, 3 more moonshots out of the program, and then we were done; no more coming.  And that's basically where things have stood ever since.

    The exploration of space starts on the ground.  And if you want to explore beyond Earth orbit, to the Moon, Mars, or beyond, you need BIG rockets -- as big as the Saturn V or bigger.  And if you want it to be an ongoing program of exploration, not just a one-off show-piece, you need to build an entire space economy: you need factories producing rockets day and night, you need a large fraction of the country (and especially its scientists and engineers) working on this task.  And that requires two things: first, seed money to get the whole thing, metaphorically and literally off the ground; and then you need commitment to keep it going.  And the initial costs are of course expensive.  We're not really tooled up for big-league space exploration, any more than we were tooled up for an automobile economy in 1880, or for an aircraft economy in 1900.

    We need to think about this in a new way: not just science, not just exploration, not just stuff that will get you on the cover of Time magazine, but something less showy and more transformative: the creation of an entirely new kind of economy built around space travel.  Without that, the biggest crash program you build, to go to Mars or wherever, will go bust just like Apollo or worse.  You can't do interplanetary exploration on a shoestring; you gotta go whole hog, or it just won't work.

  •  Can you pinpoint the day (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    devtob, sberel, luckylizard, Norbrook

    we went from being "can do" to "hell no?"

    I can work my way back through Bush who couldn't even get a replacement for the shuttle but still we have created a space station.  (Although the space station may not be the platform we need but who knows?} From there going back it was Clinton dealing with Reagan's deficit (these repubs are hell on wheels but can't govern worth a pretty good!)  Reagan was throwing money around like crazy outspending the Russians with his silly missile defense crud.  Before Reagan was Carter and Carter was dealing with pretty bad inflation.  And before Carter was Ford and Nixon and then Johnson.  

    I think it must be repubs who blanch at the idea of space and they keep giving the democrat that follows them a pile o shite to clean.

    But that may not be fair since it just may be the repubs just cannot walk and chew gum at the same time and space scares them for that reason.

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