Monday, December 20, 2010

Video - The Gift of Apollo

The fourth video in CallumCGLP's (Callum Sutherland) tribute series to Carl Sagan is about what I consider to be one of mankind's greatest accomplishments - the Apollo Program. Unfortunately, I also consider it to currently be one of mankind's greatest disappointments, and much of Sagan's monologue explains why. Nearly fifty years ago President Kennedy called upon the United States to accomplish something great. He called upon the nation to undertake a task that required technology and materials that did not yet exist, and make a journey that a mere fifty years earlier would have been considered entirely impossible. And he called upon them to do it within a decade.

Of course, the United States rose to the task, no doubt pushed at least in part by a desire to fulfill the dream of an assassinated President, which gave the endeavor something of the sheen of a holy crusade for a deceased martyr. Just over forty years ago, the United States sent men to the moon. And then a few short years and a handful of missions later, we stopped. Having accomplished the narcissistic goal of beating the U.S.S.R. to the moon and wave our metaphoric penis over the accomplishment, we decided not to return. And we still have not. Imagine if we had not been fixated solely upon our Cold War goals and had actually considered the Moon a place to go, and to explore. Where might we be now? The Apollo Program required the development of dozens of technologies that we now use unconscious of their origin - Velcro, flame resistant textiles, modern water filtration techniques, modern dialysis machines, modern athletic shoes and conditioning equipment, and on and on. Suppose we had not abandoned the Moon? Leaving aside the discovery possibilities inherent in continuing to send missions to our closest neighbor, what technology might we have developed that would have made out lives on Earth better?

Humans are short-sighted and foolish. In my lifetime, there has been no better illustration I can think of than our careless abandonment of the Moon. When the Apollo Program was in effect, there was an upsurge in interest in science education, and a proliferation of students who worked to obtain training in engineering, physics, chemistry, and the other sciences. And a nation's wealth is, in large part, tied directly to how well-educated its populace is in those fields. The Apollo Program fueled their dreams. And then, on the advice of morons like Senator Proxmire we abandoned those dreams so Congress could hand out entirely unneeded pork barrel farm subsidies. There are few things that make me sadder than thinking about the unrealized potential of our exploration of the Moon, and I wonder if we will ever gain enough wisdom to decide to go back.

Previous video in the series: Wanderers.
Subsequent video in the series: The Backbone of Night.


  1. A thoughtful and knowledgeable post. Few today even remember the blowhard Proxmire, let alone understand the damage that he did. Nice work.

  2. Proxmire was an ass, and deserves all the derision heaped upon him for his short-sighted hamstringing of the space program, but he couldn't have done it without the complicity of the rest of Congress.

    One-half of one percent of the Federal budget. That's what NASA costs. And yet it seems that in almost every election cycle we get a bunch of jackass political candidates talking about how we need to cut NASA so we can better fund something like social security which already consumes about twenty percent of the Federal budget. Our spending priorities are so screwed up.