This excellent documentary made me realize a few things about the brilliant, crazy Apollo program to send astronauts to the moon and back using the crude technology of the time (1969-1972):

  • Those missions were something that united us as a nation. As I recall, nobody worried much about whether the Democrats or Republicans would get the credit. I wish we had something nonpartisan like that to unite us today.
  • The technology just wasn’t ready. We did it all backwards. We should have done a lot of orbital work, followed by a shuttle program and space station. Then we could have gone more safely to the moon. But we didn’t do it that way. President Kennedy put out the challenge, before we had even  achieved earth orbit with an astronaut, to get to the moon and back before the end of the decade. And we did it!
  • Humans are like that. Have you seen the reproductions of the original ships that went to Jamestown, Virginia? They went all the way across the Atlantic in ships that size. It would have been a lot safer to wait for the technology to mature. But we didn’t do it that way.
  • Apollo 11 was the most famous of the flights, since it was the first lunar landing. But Apollo 13, recovering from a failure that could easily have resulted in a total loss of crew, may well have been the biggest achievement of the program.
  • It 1969 when the first Apollo lunar landing took place. The last one was in 1972. If you had told me then, “Forty years from now we’ll all carry phones with more computing power than the Apollo moon ship but we won’t have gone back to the moon and won’t even be planning to,” I would have said you were crazy. I would have expected a moon base and expeditions to Mars by now.

So — what will get us back in space, big time, and back to the moon? The same thing that got us to Jamestown — the profit motive. But that’s a story for another day. Ad astra.

 

Apollo moon shots: brilliant, crazy