Monday, July 20, 2009

Standing On the Shoulders of Giants

Like most 10 year old boys at the time I was absolutely fascinated by the Apollo 11 mission. You can re-live it minute-by-minute here at we choose the moon which is currently streaming the mission as a 'live transmission' as it unfolded in the run up to the actual landing 40 years ago tomorrow morning, at 2.56GMT on 21st July 1969.

It is a brilliant reminder of the extraordinary achievement of Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins (and NASA). To my mind the greatest human achievement of the 20th century. Will we better it in the 21st century? Alas, I'm with Boris Johnson who laments that we are now so spineless that we will likely never see a man walk on Mars. Truly they were giants.

3 comments:

  1. Like a lot of children of the 60's I am a big space fan, a recent visit to Kennedy Space Center was achieving a life long ambition. That said, as an economist, one has to ask whats the point? Manned space flight is extremely expensive, the Apollo program was driven by political rivalries rather than science. It was an essentially an engineering effort rather than scientific. Gerard De Groot's recent book "Dark side of the moon.." is well worth reading.
    Likewise the ISS is an incredibly expensive lab (c. $100bn I think). Yes you can do things there that you can't do on earth but for that kind of dosh you can do a lot of research that won't be done otherwise.
    A hop to Mars? Yeah great fun but likely benefits? Hard to think of many, even harder to quantify them. So I don't think its spinelessness so much as prudence. Remember industry insiders, ex-Astronauts will always say that its essential to continue & expand the programs.
    Untill such time as there is an "economist-in-space" program (preferably me) I will remain a skeptic.

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  2. You're right of course Kevin: spending taxpayers' money on future big space programmes is dubious at best. But I'm hopeful for a private sector initiative - perhaps towards the middle of the century assuming we get there and we get past the chasm of peak oil and the energy transition it'll require.

    Anyhow, I like Bruce Sterling's take on today's anniversary:

    "Well, there's nobody waving flags on the Moon, but there are 13 people in orbit right now. The Moon shot was a national effort, a headlong space race between two superpowers. The rusty, overcrowded Space Station is the "International" Space Station. It's cram-full of foreigners, just as mixed-up and globalized as any subway car in London, Paris, Munich, Moscow or New York.

    That polyglot crew of space techies doesn't seem to quite know what they're doing up there. They have no visible purpose and no business model. Then again, down here on Earth, neither do we. Looks like everybody gets the space heroes they deserve."

    From: http://hplusmagazine.com/articles/air-space/moonwalkers

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  3. Yeah & the toilet doesn't work. Surely a metaphor..

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