At 10:56 EST, an American Astronaut, Neil Armstrong, stepped off the Lunar Module of the Apollo 11 Spacecraft, and stepped onto the surface of the Moon. His words should be repeated by every school child in every classroom on earth. He said “That’s one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind.” Man had achieved the penultimate goal, one as ancient as the first human stargazers, man had “slipped the surly bonds of earth,” and journeyed upward to walk upon the face of Luna… Selene… Artemis… Diana. In that epic moment, all knowledge was validated, all science celebrated; man had now only to find, in the vast cosmos, the hiding place of the great god, of the Eternal Father, of the Creator. A lonely planet, separated for billions of years from its companion, was reunited by the loops and arcs of a man-made spacecraft, carrying within it the evolved collective intelligence and learning of its latest dominate species.
It was a night to celebrate the achievement, but more, it was the first and only simultaneous celebration of an event by all mankind, across all time zones, and all national borders; an event celebrated by all races, ethnicities, genders and nationalities. It should have been the first of many such events, the harbinger of a new understanding, a shared human accomplishment. It was not.
Well before the 20th of July, 1969, Congress had reduced funding for lunar missions, narrowed the scope of investigation, of scientific inquiry. Already war had reduced the flow of funding for intellectual pursuit and diminished the value of scientific achievement. Land wars, wars on social issues such as poverty, burgeoning entitlements, pork barrel politics and racial conflict narrowed the scope and ambition of science to fit quotas, progressive social goals, geopolitical entanglements and rank greed. The “space stations”, the lunar bases, the investigation of the Solar System, manned flight to Mars, all were dropped to rebuild Appalachia, and destroy SE Asian cities, hamlets, and pacify natives while concurrently quieting restless “inner city” America. The impressive body of knowledge, applied in so many areas of technology, and American life, was an unfortunate casualty in our zeal to win the hearts and minds of anti-communist fascist dictators and support, across the globe, friendly and non threatening client states.
I watched the Eagle’s Lunar Landing and Neil Armstrong’s epic leap…of eighteen inches… with my father and his friends, all aerospace engineers, all well aware that his lunar walk was the beginning of the end of what might have been. Apollo was followed by the most politicized, crony ridden, misappropriated and disappointing science project in man’s history, the Space Shuttle. At a cost of billions, an orbital vehicle was designed and built that never delivered on a single design requirement, a never met a single budget goal, yet over forty states, eighty Senators and three hundred representatives benefited with take home projects and pieces of pork pie. In the later parlance of the aeronautically literate it was known as the DC-9S, “S” for “Space” derived and designed from what was then twenty year old technology, and by the time of the last shuttle’s retirement, incorporating sixty year old technology.
But the German’s had to go. It just was unseemly that the “Father” of the American space program was a former Nazi party member who built his Germany’s WWII war rockets with white European and even Jewish slave labor, and who claimed in his autobiography to have “Aimed for the Stars” but who far too often hit London. Especially if it meant acknowledging that much of his work was inspired by and derived from the pioneering science of an American, Robert Goddard, who was treated with disdain by his fellow country men, and whose work was treasured by the young German aristocrat, Baron Wernher von Braun.
von Braun and almost all the Germans were exiled from or removed from positions of influence and research and development by the middle of the 1970’s. von Braun himself retired in 1972, after several fruitless years as a NASA Management flunky, with no real responsibility and certainly no influence over the direction of the US Space Program. Rather than stepping on the surface of Mars in 1983, we were placing pathetically small payloads into earth orbit at astronomically high cartage costs, and the science projects were far more like “Mr. Wizard goes to Orbit” than bona fide science. We had success, primarily in placing earth-centric optical research vessels in orbit, we sent small observational payloads to nearby planets, and only much later began a program to land significant and cutting edge scientific packages on Mars, replicating the payloads and scientific programs that von Braun proposed in the later 1960’s.
There are two looming tragedies of the Lunar Landing event that frame my recollection of 20 July 1969. One is that the last good Democrat President, the inspiration of the “Mission to the Moon” program did not live to see men walk on the moon. The second, as discussed briefly above is, except for the four inept Presidents who followed him; men could have walked and lived on Mars by now.
Wars and Entitlements, none of which have increased our wealth or renown, have deprived America of her rightful place in history, as the Nation that led mankind to the stars, that conquered nearby planets as well as deep space and, through collateral research, on earth, the depths of the Oceans…
American’s have learned, these last 44 years, to be satisfied with mediocrity, with food stamps and free cell phones, with disrespectful young men, and greedy wealthy old men. Our National Wealth is squandered on the dreams of war of Neo-Cons, and the dreams of Babel by progressives.
In a world of Equality, all citizens are the equal of the most base and ignorant. Houston, we have achieved equality.
It took the drive and ambition of Americans and the intellect and vision, inspired by Robert Goddard, of our Germans to reach the moon. One man, John Kennedy saw a path to American hegemony in a flight to the moon; without his hand to guide us forward, the race to the moon was simply fool’s gold.
Pax Americana should have begun on July 20, 1969, men should be walking on Mars, the moon should be colonized, and cancer and a hundred other diseases should be cured or nearing so. And our science and technology, Science with a capital “S”, should be that of which we are most proud, our accomplishments spurred by a quest for truth and knowledge, driven by the best educated generation of Americans, the “Boomers” and shared with a thankful world.
The reality is that a hundred million American’s are on the dole, taking far more from society than they contribute to it, and that the Mormon was right, 47% of us really do pay no taxes, and even worse, more, perhaps the majority of us, worry about ourselves to the exclusion of all others. And no great stirring and Patriotic line ever written or said aloud rings as hollow, or even as absurd, as those that first called us to service and later drove us to walk on the moon:
“And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”
John Kennedy did not live to see Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. But I remembered that inspiring inaugural speech and I recalled his speech at Rice the next year where he enthusiastically enjoined us to history, calling out to us, to every American: “Let’s go to the moon.”
And I remember that July night, the 20th day of July, 44 years ago tonight, in the year 1969. I remember it well. Amidst all the celebration and the thrill of human achievement, and the fulfillment of millions, no billions of dreams, we could not know that those steps on the moon’s surface were the first steps away from the aspirations of all dreamers, away from goals as yet unmet, steps into a lifetime of dreams of colonizing the Red Planet from which we are now just rousing ourselves. We did not appreciate what we had, and we did not realize that Sunday, July 20, 1969 was the day the music, the music of the spheres, stopped.