Man on the Moon 35th Anniversary

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Thirty five years ago tomorrow, I was lying the floor watching my grandparent's color TV as Neil Armstrong took his first step onto the surface of the moon. As a teenager, I was bursting with excitement and confidently looked forward to traveling to the moon (and other planets) when I grew up. The sky was the limit.

But the 20th century's Space Age ended a little more than 3 years later when the crew from Apollo 17 splashed down on December 19, 1972. Mankind's "giant leap" fizzled out.

Government-financed moon trips were the moral equivalent of building pyramids in space. Sigh. I'm still looking forward to the day when technological advances will make human space travel economically useful. In the meantime, I may as well relive my youthful dreams by enjoying NASA's expensively acquired video of the landing.

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  1. I wonder if we’ll see profitable space-travel in the near future…

    On an unrelated note, it never fails to amaze me how many economic conservatives view NASA and its research as ‘necessary’ without realizing their own arbitrary logic (public money for NASA=good, public money for social welfare=bad).

  2. Come on Ron, cheer up: Spaceship One

  3. I think it’s like flying. It seems like a great idea as a kid. You learn to do it, and there you are, boring holes in the sky again over the Boonton reservoir, or wherever your practice area is for fooling around once again, but there’s just so much you can do. Everything is predictable at some point.

    I used to summer in the mountains as a kid, near an uninhabited grass airstrip, and I’d think how cool it would be to have a plane there, and fly up to peaks instead of having to walk up the damn things, which took all day. Later I had a plane, and went there a couple times, and found it very uninteresting to fly up to the peaks. It’s no different from flying up to the mountain area from the flatlands : more boring holes in the sky, except you have to watch the wind.

    You can work yourself into the kid mood, with a lot of effort at remembering contexts, but a real airplane wipes it all away. You’ll like a real airplane for entirely different reasons, if you wind up liking it.

    Just so with boyhood dreams of visiting the moon. The real thing is probably a drag; or appeals to something else entirely, if it appeals to you in fact.

  4. Michael

    (public money for NASA=bad, public money for social welfare=bad).

    NASA is a typical government organization ? at its birth everyone was infused with energy ? and thought it was the greatest thing ? as it lumbers along 40 years later it?s just another organization that feeds at the taxpayers expense.

    Imagine where we would be if the government ran the telephone service ? I bet you wouldn?t even have push button phones.

    Want to but a man (person) on Mars ? put a reward out of 30billion ? let investors take the chance.

  5. Imagine where we would be if the government ran the telephone service ? I bet you wouldn?t even have push button phones.

    Whoa there, can that crazy talk! What about all those poor operators — what will they do if we have push button phones? Yeah, it might save some time, but what would people do without the friendly voice of a government operator on the other end? It’d be chaos, I tell you! Chaos!

  6. The free market does not always yield the results that govt projects can. If not for the massive investment made by governments, we would simply not have the heavy lift capability needed for today’s modern telecommunication networks.

    Even airplanes may not have progressed without government investment. When the wright bros first got their plane flying everyone was very impressed but wouldn’t invest. The first people to fund their next airplanes? That’s right, the Army. If not for military applications of aerospace, we would still be flying propellor aircraft.

    Fact is, the US mainly uses Russian rocket technology to lift nowadays. Turns out they solved the orbit problem differently than we did: they built better engines, we built smaller satellites. If not for the huge statist mess that was the soviet union, we would be the only nation on earth right now that could afford to launch satellites – and it would cost us twice as much.

  7. The space program was government-funded for several reasons, some valid, others not. Soviet space capability was seen as a military threat. The ability to put a vehicle into orbit was a pretty good proxy for launching an ICBM. Once Sputnik was up, Russian rocketry was used as a justification for everything from a larger military budget to federal aid to education. That latter passed as the National Defense Education Act.

    The propaganda value of taking the lead in space was supposed to be a big thing, too.

    Kevin

  8. “Whoa there, can that crazy talk! What about all those poor operators — what will they do if we have push button phones? Yeah, it might save some time, but what would people do without the friendly voice of a government operator on the other end? It’d be chaos, I tell you! Chaos!”

    How about this for an idea – we pay them not to work – just like the farmers!!!!!!

  9. When we can come up with a cost-effective way to get into space, then the private sector will come into its own. We may be on the verge of that now, with the X-Prize competitors and with the speculation that a space “elevator” may be feasible in the near future (Discover ran an article on the latter possibility last issue- http://www.discover.com/issues/jul-04/cover/).

    Personally, I’m glad Apollo happened. It may not fit in with my economic or political philosophy, but it’s still a grand human achievement. Because there were (and are) some military justifications for government involvement in space–even from the more libertarian perspective–and because of the relatively low cost of Apollo, I can’t get too offended that the private sector didn’t lead the way. At least the principle is established–we can do it! Still, I think we’re all agreed that the real exploitation of space will be accomplished by the private sector. With much more efficiency, I might add.

    P.S. Full disclosure: I may have a blind spot here, because I was born while my father was working on, well, Apollo 🙂

  10. public money for NASA=good, public money for social welfare=bad

    The vast majority of economic conservatives concede that some social welfare programs are a good thing. However, the majority of so-called “social welfare” programs in the United States are nothing of the kind; they’re just wealth redistribution from a poorly-organized or less-powerful group to a better-organized or more-powerful group. Social Security and Medicare, wherein hundreds of billions of dollars are transferred from the poorer demographic brackets to the richest one (age 65+), are the best examples of this phenomenon.

    Anyway, I think most economically conservative fans of space exploration would happily abolish NASA if they could abolish most of the “social welfare” programs at the same time. But of course, that’s not going to happen. So my attitude is that, so long as the government is wasting hundreds of billions of dollars (most of it borrowed money that my generation will get stuck repaying) on useless crap that provides zero benefit to either myself or to the country as a whole, I think it’s fair to ask that the government spend a few billion actually doing something useful, such as funding space exploration, too.

  11. Space and science make for paltiable government spending because it can lead to the opening of completely NEW markets. Public spending on social programs (ie feeding, employing, and housing people) unfairly completes with existing markets. NASA has a very important role. Opening space to private investment. Once private companies can utilize the market of space, NASA should step back and say “mission accomplished.”

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