Goodnight Moonshot

Turning the lights out on a government-aggrandizing metaphor

“Half a century ago, when the Soviets beat us into space with the launch of a satellite called Sputnik, we had no idea how we’d beat them to the moon,” President Barack Obama said in his 2011 State of the Union speech. “The science wasn’t there yet. NASA didn’t even exist. But after investing in better research and education, we didn’t just surpass the Soviets; we unleashed a wave of innovation that created new industries and millions of new jobs. This is our generation’s Sputnik moment.”

Was the president rising to the challenge of some new technology that America’s adversaries were mastering? Was he doubling down on the vague, far-off promise by his predecessor to send a mission to Mars? No. He was talking about government loans for solar panels, federal spending on research, and the even more prosaic work of getting his preferred budget passed.

As The Washington Times pointed out at the time, “The sense of national purpose that followed the Sputnik launch was not based on an abstract sense of the need for better education programs; it was a national security emergency.…[Obama’s] ‘Sputnik moment’ is a lifeless call for more aimless government programs and regulatory meddling.” And as the country has since learned, with the Solyndra scandal and an endless series of unsatisfying budget confrontations, delivering a top-down solar energy breakthrough is as maddeningly elusive as the once-routine act of getting an annual appropriations bill out of the Senate Budget Committee.

These are failures not just of governance but of language. Ever since President John F. Kennedy’s famous “Man on the Moon” speech in May 1961, and especially since the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) delivered on JFK’s “goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth,” succeeding presidents and the commentators who egg them on have been using the moonshot as a metaphor for successively less urgent, scientific, and attainable goals. 

Three weeks after Neil Armstrong announced that “the Eagle has landed,” President Richard Nixon declared that “abolishing poverty, putting an end to dependency—like reaching the moon a decade ago—may seem impossible. But in the spirit of Apollo we can lift our sights and marshal our best efforts.” Not only is the American landscape still blemished by poverty and dependency on government, including sickening amounts of dependency by the rich, but the War on Poverty launched by Nixon’s predecessor, Lyndon Johnson, turned out to be one of the great launch failures in policy history.

The moon’s metaphorical record has only waned since then. In 1971 Nixon fired his rhetorical rockets on cancer: “The time has come in America when the same kind of concentrated effort that split the atom and took man to the moon should be turned toward conquering this dread disease.” Cancer has since taken some hits, but is still not beaten. Both Jimmy Carter, in his notorious 1979 “malaise” speech, and George H.W. Bush, in his less remembered 1992 State of the Union address, used Apollo as an almost desperate reminder to depressed Americans that they can still be great. “There’s been talk of decline,” Bush said. “Someone even said our workers are lazy and uninspired. And I thought: Really? You go tell Neil Armstrong standing on the moon.”

There’s no escaping the moonshot in contemporary political discourse. GOP presidential contender Herman Cain (who was on the verge of withdrawing from the nomination contest as this issue was going to press) used it in February 2011 as proof we can and must “secur[e] the border”: “We put a man on the moon,” he said, “so this isn’t that hard!” Bill Clinton, in his exhaustive (and exhausting) post-presidency, has been fond of such formulations as “we need to make fixing climate change as politically sexy as putting a man on the moon.” The whole thesis of the bestseller That Used to Be Us by Thomas L. Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum is that the United States has lost its ability to do such great things as, well, you know what.

As authors William D. Eggers and John O’Leary argued in their 2009 Harvard Business Press book If We Can Put a Man on the Moon…Getting Big Things Done in Government, the lunar metaphor has experienced far too much mission creep. “The moon landings were without a doubt inspirational, but did they teach too much of a good lesson?” Eggers and O’Leary wrote. “Don’t we need some realism as well as optimism? Simply because you really want to reach a destination doesn’t mean you are going to get there. If President Kennedy had challenged us to send a man to Mars within the decade, we’d have lost that challenge. Just because government put a man on the moon doesn’t mean it can do something really hard.” 

There are few things political executives love more than making promises to meet lofty goals by deadlines that will arrive long after they have exited the scene. Under laws passed and edicts signed half a decade ago, and regardless of cost or other feasibility issues, California in 2020 must acquire one-third of its energy from renewable sources. “By 2020,” President Obama said in a 2010 speech, “America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.” Politicians want to bask in the glow of Kennedyesque vision and determination, without getting hung up on the practical details. 

But as Eggers and O’Leary point out, these transparent attempts to glom onto JFK’s glamour skip right over the 35th president’s real-world pragmatism. Consider this passage from Kennedy’s terse “Man on the Moon” speech: “This decision demands a major national commitment of scientific and technical manpower, material and facilities, and the possibility of their diversion from other important activities where they are already thinly spread.…It means we cannot afford undue work stoppages, inflated costs of material or talent, wasteful interagency rivalries, or a high turnover of key personnel.”

“It is remarkable today,” Eggers and O’Leary comment, “to read the words of an American president, during a major address to Congress, talking about the bureaucratic challenges of a major endeavor. Interagency rivalries? High turnover?” One of the keys to making the moonshot was grounding it in reality by extending the original 1967 deadline to the end of the 1960s and doubling the original estimated budget when it became apparent that initial projections weren’t viable. Promises detached from reality, like missions detached from concrete accomplishments, are recipes for cynicism, waste, and failure.

This issue of reason is about how mission waste and failure suffocated the very accomplishment Americans keep using as a talisman: sending man into the final frontier. In the provocative “How Much Is an Astronaut’s Life Worth?” (page 28), Robert Zubrin argues that focusing on safety to the exclusion of concrete goals has handcuffed human spaceflight. In “A Twinkle of Hope” (page 20), Rand Simberg applauds the baby steps taken by the Obama administration to undo decades of bad space policy but also lists the bold steps required to get a new generation of exploration off the launch pad. In “Science Fiction Faces Facts” (page 44), Contributing Editor Gregory Benford shows how narrative fiction has moved on from a NASA-driven universe and begun reasserting its role in igniting the dreams of people who refuse to be bounded by the atmosphere. More optimistically, Managing Editor Katherine Mangu-Ward’s  “Rocket Men” (page 34) celebrates the practical-minded and mostly private actors who are building rockets, setting goals, establishing competitions, and supplanting an unwieldy bureaucracy with individual acts of accomplishment. 

This long-promised future of private space innovation has become possible only because policy makers have recognized their own operational limitations, especially when compared to private derring-do. Sometimes you have to declare the old dream dead before the new one takes its place. Now if only we could apply that metaphor somewhere…. 

Matt Welch is editor in chief of reason and co-author of The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong with America (PublicAffairs).

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  • tarran||

    The moon landings were a great technical achievement that diverted resources and labor from more productive activities such as inventing ways to keep beer from going flat.

  • BakedPenguin||

    We need to invent a machine that can take CO2 out of the air and inject it back into beer. We can then claim we've also solved global warming.

  • Brett L||

    Isn't beer already carbon-neutral? The sugars are fixed carbon that the yeast re-release. Some of it stays in the ethanol... Beer. It's good for the environment.

  • I've Got Enough||

    Really.

    JOE HELLER

    True story, Word of Honor:
    Joseph Heller, an important and funny writer
    now dead,
    and I were at a party given by a billionaire
    on Shelter Island.
    I said, "Joe, how does it make you feel
    to know that our host only yesterday
    may have made more money
    than your novel 'Catch-22'
    has earned in its entire history?"
    And Joe said, "I've got something he can never have."
    And I said, "What on earth could that be, Joe?"
    And Joe said, "The knowledge that I've got enough."
    Not bad! Rest in peace!

    ~ Kurt Vonnegut
    published in the New Yorker
    a tribute to his lifelong friend Joseph Heller.

  • ||

    One of the things about the Apollo program until recently is that Playtex designed and constructed the space suits.

  • ||

    things I didn't know about...

    Moar coffee.

  • robc||

    3D porn.

  • Arcaster||

    The moon landings were a great technical achievement that diverted resources and labor from more productive activities such as inventing ways to keep beer from going flat.

    This

  • OWS-VPS||

    And the New Steady State (NO GROWTH) Economy

    Last week I established why we're at the end of economic growth as we know it. With that comes the end of Wall Street as we know it. The protests going on now may hasten that end, but the end is inevitable one way or another.

    But should anything replace it, and if so, what? That's the question we need to be asking. What would the economy be like? How would it function? What would differentiate a post-growth, post-Wall Street economy from the one we have today? While I have ideas of my own on this, as I'm sure you do, I wanted to turn to someone who's been doing a lot of hard thinking about this for many decades: Herman Daly.

    Herman Daly, who is now a professor at the University of Maryland, was one of the first economists to fully grasp the need for ecological economics, a version of economics that at its core recognizes that the economy exists on a finite planet and has to work in harmony with the global ecosystem. I finally sat down and read Daly's classic book Steady-State Economics, which I think is worth discussing in light of today's situation. In this diary I'd like to begin to review Daly's ideas (which were ahead of their time---the first edition was written in 1977). His ideas are both deep and simple at the same time, and should be the foundation of any plans we make for the future economy in our ever more resource-constrained world.

    Daly makes a point at the beginning of the second edition that is both "obvious" and true. (I use quotes because I've found that sometimes things that are obvious are either not so, or not true, for a variety of reasons.) Using Schumpeter's term "preanalytic vision"---the premise upon which a theory is built---he describes the basis for both standard and steady-state economics:

    What is the preanalytic vision of standard economics? Of stead-state economics? For standard economics, it is that the economy is an isolated system in which exchange value circulates between firms and households. Nothing enters from the environment, nothing exits to the environment. It does not matter how big the economy is relative to its environment. For all practical purposes an isolated system has no environment.

    Contrast this with steady-state economics:

    For steady-state economics, the preanalytic vision is that the economy is an open subsystem of a finite and nongrowing ecosystem (the environment). The economy lives by importing low-entropy matter-energy (raw materials) and exporting high-entropy matter-energy (waste). Any subsystem of a finite nongrowing system must itself at some point also become nongrowing.
    The logic is so simple, yet somehow it isn't the basis for today's dominant economic thinking. Daly comments that the discipline of economics is not so keen on creative destruction when applied to the discipline of economics itself.

    I've found Daly's insights incredibly valuable. Over the past few years I have internalized the idea that growth cannot continue and that contraction is likely. However, I had not seen or understood a vision for how an economic system can function without growth or contraction. Partly that's because our current economic system requires growth to even stay at a steady state. The fact that there is such a thing as a stall speed highlights this: it's estimated that if GDP growth drops below 2% (which is "stall speed") the U.S. economy is likely to enter recession. I've long been bothered by this fact (that we need growth even to stay flat), but the pieces never came together in my mind.

    The book is filled with all sorts of wise turns of phrase. Consider (in the context of conventional economic thinking and the over-mathematization of economics):

    Separation of 'is' from 'ought' is an elementary rule of clear thinking.
    Here I'm reminded of the expectation that while high prices ought to yield more oil, in the face of dramatically higher prices, oil production has remained flat for seven years, and so it is the latter we need to focus on.
    One of the essential ways of obscuring reality is through language (though I'm not sure I'm well qualified to expand upon this point given my lack of knowledge in linguistics and related fields). Daly strips many economic terms of their cloaks and in doing so makes the obvious visible. Take for example the ideas of consumption and production:

    But production and consumption are not the precise words, since man can neither produce nor destroy matter and energy but only transform them from one state to another. Man transforms raw materials into commodities and commodities into garbage.
    Again, this is something well known to those aware of such issues, but I'd never stepped back to think about how common terms like consumption and production were hiding what's really going on.

    The problems with GDP and GNP are well known (and we're still interested in exploring alternatives like the DOM index further); Daly again explains the problem in simple language, in part citing Schumacher:

    As more people transform more raw materials per person into commodities, we experience higher rates of depletion; as more people transform more commodities into waste, we experience higher rates of pollution. We devote more effort and resources to mining poorer mineral deposits and to cleaning up increased pollution, and then we count many of these extra expenses as an increase in GNP and congratulate ourselves on the extra growth! The problem with GNP is that it counts consumption of geological capital as current income.
    After laying some groundwork, Daly establishes what exactly it means for an economy to be steady state:

    What is it precisely that is not growing, or held in a steady state? Two basic physical magnitudes are to be held constant: the population of human bodies and the population of artifacts (stock of physical wealth)...Of equal importance is what is not held constant. The culture, genetic inheritance, knowledge, goodness, ethical codes, and so forth embodied in human beings are not held constant. Likewise, the embodied technology, the design, and the product mix of the aggregate total stock of artifacts are not held constant. Nor is the current distribution of artifacts among the population taken as constant. Not only is quality free to evolve, but its development is positively encouraged in certain directions. If we use "growth" to mean quantitative change, and "development to refer to qualitative change, then we may say that a steady-state economy develops but does not grow, just as the planet Earth, of which the human economy is a subsystem, develops but does not grow.
    Daly also makes clear the differences between a growth economy and a steady-state economy (SSE):

    However, the SSE is defined in terms of constant stocks (a quantity measured at a point in time, like an inventory), not flows (a quantity measured over an interval of time, like annual sales). GNP is a flow and is logically irrelevant to the definition of an SSE... The steady-state perspective seeks to maintain a desired level of stocks with a minimum throughput, and if minimizing the throughput implies a reduction in GNP, that is totally acceptable. The steady-state paradigm assumes some sufficient level of stocks, an assumption that is absent from the growth paradigm.
    While written in the dry language of an economist, Daly hits on an important point here: that there is no notion of "enough" in a growth-based economy (and by extension, a growth-based culture). Again, this is well known, but he distills it to its essence.

    But why can't technology solve these problems and free us from the economic constraints imposed by diffuse solar energy? Daly addresses this nicely:

    But have we not given insufficient credit to the marvelous power of technology in our discussion of ultimate means? Is not technology itself an infinite resource? No, it is not. Improved technology means using the entropic flow more efficiently, not reversing the direction of the flow. Efficiency is subject to thermodynamic limits. All existing and currently conceivable technologies function on an entropy gradient, converting low entropy into high entropy, in net terms.
    That is, the best that new energy technologies can do is find marginally more efficient ways of transforming the existing (mostly solar-derived) energy flows on the planet; technology cannot replace energy.

    Daly eventually arrives at a nice summation of what a steady-state economy is, and what its high-level objective is:

    Service comes from two sources: the stock of artifacts and the natural ecosystem. The stock of artifacts requires throughput for its maintenance, which requires depletion and pollution of the ecosystem. In other words the structure and order (low entropy) of the economy is maintained by imposing a cost of disorder on the ecosystem. From the entropy law we know that the entropy increase in the ecosystem is greater than the entropy decrease in the economy. As the stock and its maintenance throughput grow, the increasing disorder exported to the ecosystem will at some point interfere with its ability to provide natural services. As we add artifacts we gain services from them, but beyond some point we pay a price in terms of diminished natural services from the ecosystem.
    From this perspective it is clear that we can define an optimum stock as one for which total service (the sum of services from the economy and the ecosystem) is a maximum.

    In other words, the goal in a steady-state economy is to maximize the benefits rendered to society by both the economic system and the natural ecosystem in which it is embedded, and to do so, the economy's rate of consumption ("replacement of stocks") must be limited by both what the ecosystem can provide as constant income (e.g. solar energy) and by what it can accept as waste.

    The discussion thus far helps clarify what steady-state economy is and isn't, but doesn't address three important questions: a) how would a steady-state economy actually work, b) if thrown out of equilibrium by a shock of some kind, would the system converge back to its steady-state behavior, and c) how can today's growth-based economies be transitioned to steady-state operation? I plan to explore Daly's ideas on these in the next post.

    Early on, Daly discusses means and ends: what is the ultimate purpose of the economy, anyway? Is it to increase industrial production, or is that simply another means to some higher goal, like increasing human happiness or health? I'd like to end on his analogy:

    Our refusal to reason about the ultimate end merely assures the incoherence of our priorities, at both an individual and a social level. It leads to the tragedy of Captain Ahab, whose means were all rational, but whose purpose was insane. We cannot lend rationality to the pursuit of a white whale across the oceans merely by employing the most advanced techniques of whaling. To do more efficiently that which should not be done in the first place is no cause for rejoicing.

  • Surly Chef||

    OMG! Your wall of text has totally convinced me of your viewpoint!

    Or you should understand your audience better, if you're sincere (talking GDP to a bunch of Austrians or Austrian leaning libertarians, really?). If you're a troll well frankly walls of text trigger an involuntary scroll wheel reflex in many.

  • Almanian||

    tl;dr

    Also - BRING BACK HERCULE TRIATHLON SAUVIGNEN!

  • Lord Humungus||

    needs more [BRACKETS]

  • Restoras||

    and CAPITALIZATIONS.

  • WWNGD?||

    hmmmmmm... "Your comment does not appear to be written in an English script. Please comment in English."

    Damn racists over here at Reason.com.

  • Metazoan||

    Holy crap, I can't even include a couple Chinese characters mixed with English text.

    Damn racists indeed.

  • Brother Grimm||

    Huh. Too bad there are a couple hundred or so articles on this website that refute this and show the real story.

  • GroundTruth||

    Notes to OWS-VPS:

    1) If your post is longer than the article, it's probably at least in need of a good edit.

    2) I heard that same sort of thing from a HS teacher 40 years ago about the death of the automobile. (At least he had the wisdom and humility to remind us all at least once a month that half of what he was teaching us was going to be proved false... he just didn't know which half.)

    3) You sound like a "save the planet" type. The planet will be fine. It will change, but it's been doing that since day one, and will continue to do so for another few billion years till the sun swells up.

  • Restoras||

    So, what's your point?

  • Tonio||

    Self-aggrandizement.

  • MJGreen||

    It wasn't until 1977 that an economist recognized that resources are finite, huh?

  • GILMORE||

    They also discovered that everything wrong in the world had to do with Rich White Men.

  • Moogle||

    TA;DR

    (Too autistic; didn't read)

  • rather||

    Onetime I punched myself in the stomach real hard and a candy bar came out.

  • rather?||

    Or it could have been several ounces of santorum ......

  • ||

    This is our generation’s Sputnik moment.

    Is every government swindle prefaced by this now?

  • Auric Demonocles||

    Inflation. A Sputnik moment isn't as valuable as it once was.

  • Rich||

    It's kinda like a Kodak moment.

  • CptNerd||

    Bankrupt and obsolete?

  • Soviets||

    Mission accomplished!

  • Soviets||

    We'll win just yet! Twenty years from now when we return from our cryogenics induced slumber, you'll beg us to lead as an austere alternative to the cruel reign of Empress Malia.

  • ||

    The Moon landings were a great accomplishment, but only the government could open up a whole world and abandon it in a few years.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    As you may know, I'm an aerospace engineer and I still think that NASA has been a horrible waste of money.

  • ||

    If the result of Apollo had been an opening up of space to the private sector, it would've been worth it. Now it's just this great historical moment that every credits to some dead politician who actually wasn't all that into the idea in the first place.

    I'd have preferred being second and still there to first and no one can leave LEO. It's almost like the Galactic Federation has issued a secret directive requiring us to stay within 200 miles of Earth.

  • Brett L||

    Can you blame them?

  • Auric Demonocles||

    Galactic Officer, am I free to gambol about *fields and nebula?

    *asteroid

  • Matrix||

    Romulus: NO!
    Kronos: NO!

  • Moogle||

    Ah, good, obscure geek references. Not enough of those on the tubes.

  • ||

    No.

  • ||

    Humans and space don't mix.

    Until we find someplace habitable, it makes more sense to send machines. With modern robotics and intelligent systems there's no point putting humans up there except for dramatic purposes.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    There is possibly the point of money making. People would be willing to pay a lot more to actually be in space than to remotely control a probe in space. For non-entertainment purposes (e.g. mining, science research, etc) you are correct.

  • ||

    Well yes, but anything beyond low orbit and they're going to have to be loaded to afford it.

  • ||

    Are you kidding? The amount of resources in space alone is going to make someone very rich. Cheap access to orbit will open up the floodgates, and it's on the horizon, finally.

    Robots are extremely limited and will remain so for the near-term.

  • Brett L||

    I have an asteroid all picked out. Approximately $6T worth of iron and nickel. Sure, flooding the market might only make it worth $500B, but that's just the first asteroid. Elon, call me, bro. I have a plan for putting it in a trojan point orbit so it can be used for assembly in space.

  • ||

    Have you ever heard of deep water oil drilling, PL?

    It ain't James Cameron in a bathysphere drilling those wells.

  • ||

    Fine. Set up an infrastructure with people to have robots drill out some asteroids.

  • ||

    And orbit is only half the problem. You have any idea how much extra mass and extra energy consumption life support would require for a trip to the nearest part of the asteroid belt?

  • ||

    Not an issue if we have cheap access to orbit.

  • Brett L||

    The problem is that orbit is more than half the problem. Once you get to 11 km/s, the mass penalty is zero. You can coast anywhere in the universe for free after that. Matching orbits costs a little, but not much for an asteroid. Remember, the reason we use big rockets is because there is a huge benefit in high thrust to weight ratios. But most of what we're lifting off the pad is fuel. Earth to orbit is about 90% fuel by mass. The SpaceX rocket has 9 giant engines in the first stage and only 1 in the subsequent stage. Orbit to anywhere else is about 10% fuel by mass. That's why I want to NOT have to lift dense things like raw metals into space from Earth.

  • ||

    Ideally, we'd build an infrastructure in space (probably the Moon) for making fuel and maybe even manufacturing some hardware, so that we could avoid shipping things from the Earth's surface.

  • ||

    There are numerous asteroids not in the belt that pass close to Earth.

  • Suki||

    Do you people expect us to believe that the corporations are *not* hording space to make it too expensive for regular people to take vacations there?

  • GILMORE||

    You took the Blue Pill, didn't you

  • k2000k||

    Well that is until we need the valuable resources that do exist in space. At some point human beings will migrate for no other reason than economic incentive.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    Even harsher than the Monoliths.

  • ||

    Carl Sagan, hardly an opponent of govt spending, said Apollo was like spending a decade's salary on a Mercedes-Benz and then abandoning it because you couldn't afford to pay for gas.

  • ||

    To do more efficiently that which should not be done in the first place is no cause for rejoicing.

    Taxation is theft. I concur.

  • Yeah||

    Repeat daily. This is how minds are changed.

  • ||

    only the government could open up a whole world and abandon it in a few years.

    The Spaniards would have enslaved the Moonmen and destroyed the entire earth economy with minerals based hyperinflation by now.

  • ||

    I think the Spanish government gave Columbus some sort of guarantee that he'd get X% of the money generated through his new trade route.

  • GroundTruth||

    "I gave you next-best, the spanish inquisition"... Isabella to Columbus from "The Voyage" by Philip Glass

  • Almanian||

    Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition...

  • ||

    Which they later rescinded for trumped-up reasons.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    The most important being that it was a shitload of money?

  • GroundTruth||

    Or wiped out the Swiss economy with massive importation of green cheese.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    Germ warfare.

  • ||

    The problem is that with BO at the helm, that money's going to be spent more on Vietnam Wars and Great Societies than moon landings.

  • Almanian||

    RACIST!

  • BakedPenguin||

    The one thing that "government can do anything" types don't get about Apollo is that, despite the enormity of the task, it was a very discrete goal. You could do it, once, and be done. There were many variables, but they could (almost) all be identified and dealt with. Curing cancer, just to name one item on the do-good wish list, ignores the fact that there are hundreds of different cancers, each often with many different causes, including the behavior of the people who get it.

  • ||

    It also ignores the fact that most of the technical achievements were accomplished by sorta private companies. A lot of them.

  • Almanian||

    ROAAAAAAAAAAAAAADDDDDZZZ!!!11!

  • mad libertarian guy||

    Most importantly, however, was that Apollo solved TECHNOLOGICAL hurdles, not ideological or sociological ones.

  • Hugh Akston||

    It's all the same thing. With innovations like always-on GPS tracking, flying killer robots, and indefinite detention, all problems become technological ones.

  • Suki||

    It took Capricorn One to solve the sociological hurdle of faking a Mars landing with a Black man who went on to becoming a murderer and trading card thief.

  • ||

    Government can do anything if it spends enough money. If there is something worthwhile that government hasn't yet done -- which I do not concede -- that just proves the government hasn't spent enough.

  • Almanian||

    Can we add, "If we can send a man to the moon...." to the Reason drinking game? Cause it reminds me a LOT of "For a magazine called Reason..."

    Can we huh can we can we can we huh can we?!!

  • Brandon||

    If this commonsense measure isn't adopted, then cancel my subscription!

  • Suki||

    If Virginia Postrel was still around, this would not even be a topic.

  • Lolcat||

    I CAN HAS CHEEZBURGER?

  • ||

    Apollo was like spending a decade's salary on a Mercedes-Benz and then abandoning it because you couldn't afford to pay for gas.

    and....

  • Auric Demonocles||

    Then you need to get a government official to get you out of the ditch.

  • Joe||

    They can put a man on the moon, but they can't keep a damn phone cord from bunching up!

    THEY CAN PUT A MAN ON THE MOON!

  • Auric Demonocles||

    They actually pretty much solved this. They're called cell phones. No bunchy cords.

  • ||

    most of the technical achievements were accomplished by sorta private companies.

    Those evil bastards; they were just profiteering off the War on Space.

  • ||

    They tried, but the government outfoxed them! Ha! Government 1; corporations 0!

  • Auric Demonocles||

    We're all Krikkiters now!

  • ||

    Except the paydirt with solar is far greater than NASA could ever be.

    According to the futurist scientist Ray Kurzweil a 100x100 mile solar farm in the Nevada desert could fill the needs of our current electric utility power demand by 2030. He applies Moore's Law to solar energy production.

    (I might have had a scotch or two when I heard that)

  • Brett L||

    (a) 10000 square miles of highly reflective solar panels will make an interesting microclimate.
    (b) Just how do you propose to store all of that power?
    (c) I may be mistaken, but I don't think there's that much flat land in one area.

    Sure, if solar panels become cheap and replaceable and we come up with a good way of recycling all of the rare-earth metals in the old panels and we come up with a way of storing the power and a hundred other things go right, there is enough solar energy falling on Arizona to do what he says.

    By the same token, we could just build a 1TW nuclear reactor in each state tomorrow with current technology.

  • Moogle||

    I think it's just a model to illustrate the concept. That much in solar panels can supply the power we need, but the actual panels are placed wherever. That's solar's biggest advantage- it's distributable.

  • ||

    He applies Moore's Law to solar energy production.

    Sounds like applying the Pythagorean theorem to an equilateral triangle.

  • cynical||

    "He applies Moore's Law to solar energy production."

    If that were possible, we'd be breaking laws of thermodynamics within a few years.

  • Suki||

    If there is anything that will get an idea to the top of the reason heap, breaking the law is it!

  • ||

    "According to futurist scientist"

    According to ancient alien astronaut theorists..

  • ||

    Shut down NASA, deregulate the industry entirely, and allow private entities to sort shit out and advance the field.

  • Every Nerd in America||

    Wake me for the yard sale.

  • Brett L||

    Dibs on the giant computers that are less powerful than my iPhone!

  • ||

    iPhone? Try your calculator.

  • Brett L||

    Its on my iPhone.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Three weeks after Neil Armstrong announced that “the Eagle has landed,” President Richard Nixon declared that “abolishing poverty, putting an end to dependency—like reaching the moon a decade ago—may seem impossible. But in the spirit of Apollo we can lift our sights and marshal our best efforts.”

    Worse than the hubristic sense of purpose it gave our national leaders, the moon landing lead to the movie Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon.

  • ||

    The was good action for about 10 minutes in the final 40 minutes, but that's about it. That movies sucked.

    And we were about THIS - [_] fucking close to Bay moving off and the fourth movie being handed to somebody else, possibly even Spielberg... and then he came back and decided he'd direct it after all. Ffffffffffuuuuuuuuuuu.

    There should be a reboot.

  • 35N4P2BYY||

    and Apollo 18.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    Worse than Apollo 18 (I never saw the second or third Transformers movies)?

  • ||

    Yeah. Except somebody like Spielberg of Abrams could have utterly mind-fucked us with awesomeness if they'd been given the Transformers 2 and 3 projects, with that much money and backing. But instead, Bay got it, and they sucked.

  • ||

    *or

  • ||

    We can put a man on the moon but we can't find a single damn thing that Michael Bay is good at, except fucking things up.

  • ||

    Fuck JJ Abrams.

    It was bad enough that Rick Berman destroyed Star Trek, but that talentless twat picking up its carcass and using it as his personal meat puppet was even worse.

  • ||

    But 2009's Star Trek movie was highly enjoyable. :( And what did Berman do again?

  • A Serious Man||

    There was a pretty awesome Onion story with a headline that read:

    Star Trek Fans Outraged That New Movie Will Be 'Fun' and 'Enjoyable'

    That being said, I hated the movie for reducing Star Trek to mindless colorful action and noise. Wrath of Khan is still No 1, although JJ Abrams will allegedly be remaking it for the sequel.

  • Moogle||

    Oh, stop it. Trek was dead, dead, dead when JJ took over.

    I have mixed feelings on the 2009 Trek film, but I thought the destruction of Vulcan and making the Vulcans a refugee race was actually pretty ballsy. Oops. Spoliers? Deal with it.

    If he can get a 12 year old geek to clean up the overt science boners in the next script, he might well have revived the franchise beyond a one time hit.

  • ||

    It will be a bonus if the geek can fix the plot holes too.

    Everything Abrams has ever made makes absolutely no sense. Even internally. It's not just unrealistic physics. Unfortunately, there's a steady stream of people who confuse plot incoherence with "mystery" that lap up his shit.

  • john||

    The simple fact is that the human race is going nowhere in the cosmos. Unless we can defeat the laws of physics as we understand them and hugely exceed the speed of light, the distances are simply too huge to fall within the span of any carbon-based life. It's no accident that, the ravings of UFO nuts notwithstanding, we've never been visited by other life forms from the cosmos.

  • ||

    Well, outside of the solar system, maybe, but within the solar system? I don't think that's true at all.

  • ||

    The solar system is a dust mite in the vastness of the cosmos... and the universe has some wicked allergies, fyi.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    Generation ships.

  • ||

    Or it may turn out FTL travel is possible.

  • A Serious Man||

    Didn't scientists recently observe neutrinos that travel faster-than-light?

  • ||

    The real trick is turning neutrinos back into yourself after you get there.

  • ||

    Unproven!

  • ||

    Even if that observation is real, it doesn't help much to only go a tiny fraction faster than light.

  • ||

    Even a little means our physics is wrong. Which could mean an end-run around the FTL limit is possible. Warp drive next year--wooo hooo!

    Or not.

  • k2000k||

    Who knows? At one point it was thought to be physically impossible to go faster than the speed of sound. It's kind of hard to say with absolute certainty that we will never go FTL or find a work around given human ingenuity and the utter complexity of existence.

  • Moogle||

    At what point? Firearms before the 20th century were known to have muzzle velocities in excess of the speed of sound. It was never anything more than an engineering problem, and dealing with the forces and pressures involved, otherwise they wouldn't have kept trying.

  • Moogle||

    Submitted too soon.

    With the sound barrier, there was never a mathematical foundation that led one to think it was not possible. With the light barrier we have that. It's a completely different situation from a physics standpoint. There *is* math that says, well, no, you're not going to get your physical object accelerate up past the speed of light.

  • ||

    And not just math; the "speed limit" for non-massless objects has been tested by experiment many many times since the theory was formulated, and it's never been violated.

  • ||

    Or that teleportation is workable. In this scenario, space ships are simply the rough equivalent of a rent-a-car.

  • ||

    The uncertainty principle pretty much rules that out.

  • ||

    Generation ships.

    We can't even make Social Security work...

  • Zeb||

    True. But once they are well outside of the solar system, they will have a tremendous incentive to make it work.

  • mgd||

    They can put a man on the moon, but they can't build generation ships!

  • 35N4P2BYY||

    John, you assume that we have reached the extent of our knowledge.

    On, a slightly related note, what was the final outcome of that whole faster-than-light neutrino kerfuffle?

  • Zeb||

    I don't think that there will be a final outcome for some time. I had heard that they found a calculation mistake which accounted for it, but then later I heard that the experiment had been reproduced with the same results.

  • Zeb||

    Actually, you don't need to travel faster than light to get to distant parts of the cosmos. If you can travel arbitrarily close to the speed of light, you can get anywhere in the universe in any amount of time (as perceived by the traveler), though acceleration and deceleration would probably still take quite a long time. The only problem is that you could never go back home.

  • Zeb||

    What we really need to do is send some clones out to invent an artificial consciousness which can manipulate space and time in ways we can't imagine.

    Bonus points for whoever gets the reference.

  • Marie Delacroix||

    In my experience, artificial consciousness and FTL drives do not mix well.

  • "Nancy Pelosi"||

    Are you serious?

  • SFC B||

    The Androsynth?

  • Zeb||

    No one reads anything by Frank Herbert other than Dune, eh?

  • CE||

    No not really. You don't have to exceed the speed of light, you only have to approach it. Then due to time compression, the travelers in the near light speed ship don't age much at all, even though the civilization they left behind is gone by the time they arrive at their destination.

  • Hugh Akston||

    My concern is for future presidents who are coming of age in a time void of any government boondoggles/cultural touchstones.

    What grand project of the Great Republic will they simplify and invoke to terrify/inspire the plebes to support their petty agendas?

    The TSA?

  • ||

    No, silly. The jobs saved or created by the Great Stimulus, which heroically staved off a depression and cannibalism.

  • ||

    Artificial Uteri.

  • 35N4P2BYY||

    The invention of the Fleshlight?

  • ||

    It'll be how Grand Leader, Ward-Lord of the Imperium Americanum and Leader of all the Nations of The Old Republic, defeated the anarchists and KKK to save the country and establish a new order based on equality and eminent domain.

  • ||

    The War on Terror is better than anything they've come up with previously. Vague, ill-defined, projectable to the entire world like The War on Drugs never could be, and it can never, ever be won or lost.

  • ||

    I'll believe we can colonize outer space after we colonize Antarctica, which is about a hundred times more hospitable than anything in space.

  • Brett L||

    We've had continuous scientific colonies in Antarctica for 40 years. I have a couple friends from FSU that are down there at least once a year.

  • ||

    And they're totally dependent on supplies from the outside world.

    I guess I should have specified "self sustaining". Or at least capable of surviving on very infrequent resupplies.

  • ||

    Techinically no new area has ever been self sustaining until enough products are brought in so that the local resources can be utilized.

  • ||

    It's the legal framework governing Antarctica that's the problem, not the inaccessibility of the continent. Interestingly, that's the same thing the socialist nations of the Earth tried to impose on us in the Moon Treaty, which we and everyone else with a space capability at the time smartly avoided signing.

  • A Serious Man||

    Serously, fuck that space treaty shit. If no man is using it then the homesteading principle applies.

    We should want the Montgomery Burns of the world to spend money privately trying to conquer the moon. Besides, I've read interesting things about the possibility of harvesting energy off of the moon in the form of helium-3, which would obviously be an enterprise for the private sector.

  • Brett L||

    Like this.

  • ||

    If no man is using it then the homesteading principle applies.

    Does that apply to Yellowstone, too?

  • A Serious Man||

    No, because Yellowstone is the property of the US government. The Moon is just sitting there unused and unclaimed.

  • k2000k||

    But we got a flag on it. So by rules of the flag I say it belongs to America. And given the homesteading act of the 19th centuy Imma go get my self some MOON GOLD.

  • Paul||

    This is our generation’s Sputnik moment

    If this is my generation's Sputnik moment, things are worse than I thought.

  • A Serious Man||

    I think it was Jerry Seinfeld who had a bit where he goes on about how it would have been much better for everyone's self-esteem if we didn't go to the move. Kind of like "Well if we can't cure cancer than no wonder we couldn't go to the moon!"

  • Paul||

    Herman Cain (who was on the verge of withdrawing from the nomination contest as this issue was going to press) used it in February 2011 as proof we can and must “secur[e] the border”: “We put a man on the moon,” he said, “so this isn’t that hard!”

    In defense of Herman Cain, this is the proper use of the moonshot metaphor. I just happen to disagree with the goal he's trying to attain.

  • Paul||

    “How Much Is an Astronaut’s Life Worth?” (page 28), Robert Zubrin argues that focusing on safety to the exclusion of concrete goals has handcuffed human spaceflight.

    In this regard, it's over for this country. Safety-over-utility is creepily preached to our youngest children the moment they hit preschool.

    In just a short four years of my daughter's elementary school experience, the school administration has banned so many activities on the playground structures and play areas, that my daughter wrote an essay about how recess wasn't fun anymore-- because of all the rules.

    I'm so proud of my little libertarian.

  • ||

    My friends have kids (and I have nephews and nieces) that mastered gun assembly/disassembly and use while still prepubescent.

    Personal adventurism, the American spirit of liberty and fulfillment, isn't as dead as you may think. Fuck public schools.

  • Paul||

    Yeah, it's not dead for the 24 or so libertarians who have kids, but this safety-over-utility shit is working and it's effective, hence NASA.

  • ||

    It's not dead in many midwestern and central-southern areas, even in public schools. Or where I live in North Carolina.

  • veemee sashimi||

    "that my daughter wrote an essay about how recess wasn't fun anymore-- because of all the rules."

    How many days was she suspended for the essay?

  • Paul||

    I'm sure her teacher gave that disapproving chuckle and said, "Interesting position you've taken"

    I was standing out on the playground just recently, watching the kids go across that playstructure bridge thingy, the one with the wood planks connected by chain that kind of wobbles on it when you walk? Yeah, the kids were running across it and the playground monitor woman told them they could only walk across it, and hold the handrails while they did it.

    Within seconds the spry, young active children suddenly looked like residents at a nursing home.

    God it was sad.

  • Robert||

    The trouble for the article is that the man-on-moon comparison hasn't been used especially to advocate gov't action or even American action, but all kinds of human action.

  • Bleached Asshole||

    Officer am I free to Proctor & Gambol?

  • Barely Suppressed Rage||

    Can't believe nobody has yet pointed out the obvious fact that the so-called "moon landings" never occurred - except on a sound stage out in the Nevada desert somewhere.

    Ha! Can't believe all these gullible types who actually believe men went to the moon!

  • Hugh Akston||

    Now that's what this generation really needs: a reimagining of the staged moon landing with a more compelling storyline and better special effects.

    Maybe we can get Ron Moore to direct the reboot.

  • ||

    Michael Moore is best Moore.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    Let's get Quinto to be one of the astronauts.

  • Brett L||

    I'll give you $50 to say that to Buzz Aldrin.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    Plus medical bills?

  • Barely Suppressed Rage||

    I giggle my ass off every time I watch that video of Buzz Aldrin decking that idiot. The moron walks up to Buzz Aldrin and shoves a microphone in his face and says "Mr. Aldrin, you're a liar, and a coward, a..." BOOM! Aldrin just hauls off and decks him one right across the kisser. I love how he didn't even hesitate; didn't have words with the guy - just as soon as the guy said "liar," you can Aldrin thinking "What the FUCK?" And then the fool says "you're a coward" and BAM he gets a senior citizen knuckle sandwich. HA! Make me laugh every time.

  • Barely Suppressed Rage||

    you can SEE Aldrin thinking...

  • Brett L||

    Just for you. With slomo replay.

  • k2000k||

    You call a man a liar and a coward to his face then the man who has been called a liar and a coward has every right to pop you in the jaw.

  • Almanian||

    In Libertopia, No One Cares That You're Screaming

  • Slap the Enlightened!||

    What the economists didn't account for...

    The GE plant is one of a number of facilities around the country producing new technologies for rapidly growing markets in advanced batteries, electric vehicles, and solar power—but those efforts cannot counter the reality that the U.S. manufacturing sector is in trouble. After decades of outsourcing production in an effort to lower costs, many large companies have lost the expertise for the complex engineering and design tasks necessary to scale up and produce today's most innovative new technologies, not to mention the appetite for the risks involved.

    If you believe Thomas Friedman's assertion that "the world is flat," and that moving manufacturing to places where production is cheap makes companies more competitive, such a shift might not matter beyond its implications for the U.S. economy and its workers. But the United States remains the world's most prolific source of new technologies, particularly materials-based ones, and evidence is growing that its diminished manufacturing capabilities could severely cripple global innovation. There are ample reasons to believe that the model of the U.S. computer industry—which has successfully outsourced much of its production in the last few decades and made design, not manufacturing, its priority—will not work effectively for companies trying to commercialize innovations in energy, advanced materials, and other emerging sectors.
  • Brett L||

    "If you believe Thomas Friedman's assertion that "the world is flat," and that moving manufacturing to places where production is cheap makes companies more competitive"

    I hate that this person found this out from Friedman, but I guess I'm glad they found out.

  • ||

    Nixon's "concentrated effort that split the atom" was in fact a Kiwi tinkerer who cut his teeth fixing his father's flax mills, and turned his dab hand to physics. Rutherford then devised a ridiculously simple desk top apparatus for the atom split. Hardly a moon-shot, and definitely not something that inspires wholesale money shovelling into any project.

  • ||

    I have one stock answer for anyone who uses that idiotic "If we can put a man on the moon..." line.

    We can't. Haven't been able to for over 30 years.

  • ||

    Actually, putting a man on the moon is easy as long as you're not worried about his survival.

  • first||

    Mirta is one of those girls who feeds off attention.

    GOOD THING for her because she also knows how and when to get it. Born from an Italian father and a Czech mother, Mirta is an exotic 21 year old who is unafraid of the camera and has the kind of body that turns heads wherever she goes. She is well traveled for a girl of such a young age and works at night in a bar owned by her family.

    It is very rare for any photographer to find a more photogenic model who takes as much pleasure being in front of the camera as Mirta does. After a while of shooting Petter had to give up telling her to keep her legs together and ended up doing things her way. The results of course are stunning. Mirta is a woman whose veins are full of passion, energy, and beauty.

    Luckily Petter was there to document these qualities to their fullest.

    http://www.hegre-art.com/model.....ls-wrapper

  • دردشة زين العراق||

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