7/21/09 - Echos of Apollo 40th anniversary of Apollo 11

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k7ip Tue, 07/21/2009 - 06:25

While waiting for input from one of the design engineers on my work project, I've had the opportunity to listen to the NASA webcast of the entire audio stream from the Apollo 11 moon mission. The timing has been such that when I have gotten to work, the crew is in a rest period and the link is pretty quiet. But the thrill yesterday of hearing "The Eagle has landed" again was just as real as it was when I heard it on CBS 40 years ago. Thanks to the marvel that is the Internet, we get to relive a major piece of world history.

My daughter, 25 years old, was blase about it. Her world is about MTV, 25,000 channels of cable tv, Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace. She gives little thought to the fact that virtually all of the technology that improves her life so much is derived directly from the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo space programs. As we boomers age out of influence in society, the one thing we have unfortunately not left behind is that sense of mission that permeated America during those days. Yes, we were embroiled in Viet Nam, and that certainly had an impact on the space program. But the key element of it was competition to prove that the American system of politics and economics was vastly superior to Communism. Let's not forget, though, that despite the fact we were first to put men on the moon, the Soviets were VERY able opponents in the race. They had an impressive string of firsts in nearly every aspect of the space program except for the actual landing on the moon. Without that competition, could we have accomplished the moon landings?

Today, talk is about retiring the space shuttle and developing a moon colony by the middle of the second decade of the 21st century. One wonders if we can make that goal, given the lack of international competition and lack of national focus. The space program pays indirect benefits, exactly the same as investment in the education system does. These are economic times during which the terminally shortsighted demand a visible return on investment. I'm skeptical that NASA, or any government agency or national political figure for that matter, can marshal the same spirit of teamwork that got Neal Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Mike Collins to the moon on this day 40 years ago.