21:40 20 Jul 2003

No mention today anywhere of the anniversary of the first manned moon landing. Not even in I had to go to the “This Day in History” page on to find something. As far as I’m concerned, the Apollo missions to the moon are among the greatest adventures in the history of mankind. We went from tiny little satellites orbiting the earth (if we were lucky) to mammoth rocket boosters sending three men to the moon in less than ten years. What have we done in the thirty-plus years since? I’ll admit that much has been accomplished, but the biggest successes have been by a handful of unmanned probes and an orbiting telescope. The space shuttle and International Space Station have really sucked the life out of the rest of the space program, and they have, when you look at the investment, damned little to show for it.

President Kennedy said “I believe this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.” There was, of course, the Soviet Union to beat, so it played well politically. But the bottom line is we went to the moon because we decided to. No one said “We can’t because we don’t have big enough rockets” or “We can’t because it’s too expensive”. We didn’t have big enough rockets. It was expensive. It was also something to be immensely proud of, and it advanced the human race a lot more than the National Endowment for the Arts would on an comparable budget.

And why so little play in the media? Maybe America is just historically ignorant. Maybe, in the wake of Columbia, no one gets excited (at all) about the space program. Maybe those that want to be excited about the space program are more than a little depressed when they look back and see the wasted decades.

Over the weekend, I watched the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey. Remember: When that film was made, man had yet to walk on the moon. But I think that, in 1968, the manned outpost on the moon and the manned mission to Jupiter (Saturn in the book) seemed like inevitable probabilities by the end of the century. They certainly were realistically possible. So why is it now, in 2003, that they seem to be farther off than they did in 1968?

We should be ashamed.