Monday, July 20, 2009

20 July - Day of Bravery

I was a kid on that day and remember it well. Watching on TV our astronauts walking on the moon and how proud I felt in my own kid way . . . it was a great day for America, and a great day for humanity.

Tom Wolfe puts it in perspective . . .


  1. The moon lander (Apollo Lunar Module -aka LEM) was a phenomenal feat of space engineering. It was designed and built by Grumman Aerospace on Long Island, NY. They were a great company but unfortunately were gobbled up by Northrup many years ago. I understand the Grumman facility where it was built has been torn down to make way for office space for a cable TV provider.
    A sad state of affairs it is.

    You will find similar stories for the other components of the Apollo/Saturn program.
    North American Aviation designed and built the Command Module and the 2nd stage of Saturn, they are gone.
    Dougas Aircraft built Satrun's 3rd stage, they are history.
    Boeing built the Saturn 1st stage using a NASA design. Boeing is still here but the division that built Saturn has disappeared in corporate reshuffling.

  2. I was flat on my back on the floor in front of our TV and everybody else went to bed, but I wanted to stay up to see that historic moment.

    Of course, that moment can't be separated from another "celebrity" who passed away just a few days ago, Walter Cronkite. It was very striking to see Walter let his emotion out after Armstrong hit the surface of the moon.

    "The Right Stuff" was on TV tonight, and like all history Hollywood does dramatic licenses were taken, like Yeager's flight in his shiny new plane towards the end.

    But, it's still one of my favorite bits from the movie world ever and it still inspires.

    And where has that inspiration gone to? Much like mike's aerospace pioneers, trashed, torn down, decrepit.

    You know, we could do that stuff again.


  3. I was in class...watching that moment on TV, and it was our teacher who never was lost for a word just stood there speechless.
    We watched the news, we watched the rerolls of the tapes...and there she stood just watching with us. scribbling in our books, no calculations, and no long-winded lectures about good boys and girls.
    Just a simple request before dimissal..."remember this moment because your world has just changed."

  4. The Chief's got a good post on this topic over at GFT. Here's the link:

    I'm about to go over there and do battle.

  5. As Pluto strides over to GFT ready for combat, I'm sneaking in here for a hipshoot. To wit: I'm going to be the sourpuss about the Apollo program. I'll agree that it was all very much fun and heroic and cool. But beyond the public prettiness, manned flight in the solar system is pretty pointless; there's no there there, we got nothing from the lunar landings that we couldn't have done with an unmanned probe.

    The only real point to manned space travel (other than pure tourism and some fairly arcane science) is to find new habitable planets to ensure that the human race can survive a planetary-level disaster.

    But the U.S. space program was NEVER going to do that. Hell, the entire human race would have a hard time constructing the colonizing ships - and it'd have to BE ships plural, the chances of losing multiple ships and all the colonists aboard are just too immense to ignore - and the technology for prolonged interstellar travel isn't there.

    We (i.e. technologically advanced humanity) got some useful technology out of the space flight program - not that I'm convinced that an unmanned program wouldn't have yielded 95% of the same benefits (maybe 98% if you exclude "Tang") - but all the common benefits for "cheap access to space" were there prior to 1960.

    Bottom line - living in the bottom of a gravity well makes it expensive to enter and leave. Extra-atmospheric craft can be constructed to mush less demanding specifications. The shuttle program proves that - an evolutionary dead end.

    There are LOTS of challenges right here on Earth, starting with constructing a truly long-term sustainable technologic civilization without the reliance on fossil fuels and unrestrained population growth. We don't need a "final" frontier. The frontier is still there: in human lives, in governance, in technology, in ecology.

    IMO the manned space program is a shiny toy useful for distracting the groundlings. Fun, pretty, but not worth the candle.

  6. Silly gunner, thinking that people need to live on planets.

    What a failure of imagination.

  7. You are a true grinch, Chief. You are sounding like Fox News on this issue. See <(,2933,75102,00.html)> for their view, which I am amazed to say is much like yours regarding benefits of manned space exploration. There is a difference in motives of course as at the time of publication they were pushing the Bush tax cuts and defending his gutting of the NASA budget to pay for them.

    True that the unmanned programs gave us advances in robots and robotic software that have greatly benefitted hazardous material handling, monitoring in dangerous environments, and EOD bots. But the bennies from the unmanned programs will never come close to matching what we have gotten from the manned space programs. There are hundreds of earthbound technologies which benefitted greatly from Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, the Shuttle, and the Space Station. That would probably increase to thousands if you include Soyuz, Mir, Vostok et al. And hopefully the Chinese have learned some peaceful technologies from their manned program.

    I will agree that manned space colonies on Moon and Mars are not within our current budgetary means due to Iraq and to Bush's tax cuts. But IMHO to put those missions off forever and depend on robots is a cruel and abominable injustice to our grandchildren and their grandchildren's grandchildren.

  8. Guys, guys! You're reading the headlines and not continuing on to the story. Like I said, I'm an unrepentant sci fi fan. To boldly go where no Man had gone before? Make it so, man...


    The great voyages of discovery didn't happen because someone wanted adventure or because of great idealism or because of an academic quest for knowledge.

    They happened because Henry the Navigator wanted to kick Spain's ass, or because Ferdinand of Castile wanted cold cash, or because Good Queen Bess wanted to poke a finger in the eye of the goddam Dagoes.

    If you ask me, I think the idea of putting Earth's resources behind launching one floating ark to the nearest stars every decade would be a hell of a great idea.

    But dinking around the solar system? Using the launch technology we have now?


    The reality here is this: space ships have to be built in space. Getting into and out of a gravity well is just to damn costly - it will never be profitable. So the FIRST order of business, whether exploring Mars or journeying to Alpha Centuri, is to commit to constructing ship construction facilities in space. With the massive financial and long-term strategic commitment that implies.

    That's not gonna happen, or at least not until Nicolae Carpathia unifies the globe under the One World Government. Pluto points out the real issue: most of the national space flight programs are effectively run by the nation's respective militaries. They have no interest in space exploration. They just want the "strategic high ground".

    So. My point is; the Mercury-Gemini-Apollo-Shuttle programs were fun and frills. But the real heavy lifting of exploration and discovery has been done by unmanned drones and will continue to be until the POLITICAL problems here are solved. Those are the REAL final frontier.

    Get the human race pulling together and we may yet see human colonies on Alpha Centuri in a thousand years or so.

    But IMO right now, right here, celebrating the U.S. manned space program - with the implication being that we should restart that program to go to the moom again, or Mars, is just asking for more highly funded, flag-waving pork, and military pork at that.

    Right now the business of near-Earth exploration can go on just fine without people in space suits.

    Meanwhile, we SHOULD be beating the drum for the idea of spreading out into the nearer reaches of our spiral arm. Being stuck on a single planet is begging for extinction. But the NASA manned program wasn't about that. IT was NEVER about that. It was ALWAYS about poking a finger in the eye of the goddam Russkies. When we did that - the day Armstrong took his "small step" - the whole magilla was done. Over. Shot in the head. The bluesuiters who would one day become USAF's Space Command immediately lost interest. They aren't in the exploration and colonization business - they're in the warfighting business. Shuttles can launch and repair satellites that help fight wars. So the big converted missiles were out, the shuttles were in.

    My whole point is: let's be honest with ourselves about what the lunar landing was all about. It wasn't Darwin and the Beagle. It was Columbus siezing the strategic real estate for King and Country, and once the deal was done, the King lost interest.

  9. That's my complaint with the Tom Wolfe article linked in the original post. Wolfe makes it sound like it was some sort of moral failing that killed the manned program, instead of hard, cold politico-military realities. The problem with that is it puts you on the wrong end of the rope to restart human exploration and diffusion into space. If the problem was moral, you just need to cheerlead and propagandize and emote people into supporting the effort. But...if the problem is with the King - or the military, Congress and contractors - then all the cheerleading in the work will do nothing. You have to go out - like Columbus did - and find a get-rich-quick scheme that they'll buy into.

    Cash Rules Everything Around Me. The solution to the problems of NASA aren't idealism and enthusiasm. It's CREAM, baby. CREAM.

  10. What can I say? I was a kid then, and still kinda think about it as a kid would. The photo I posted was a montage of various things which also happened later, not only on 20 July 1969, but combine to form a sort of memory at least for me . . . space was the "future" then as we saw it, not "science fiction". I agree with Wolfe, it was a failure of vision and seizing a very promising opportunity, building on what we had already achieved.

    The memory is very positive and is shared by many people my age around the world. It was international, multi-cultural, omni-lingual . . . "made in the USA" . . . the pix said it all.

    So think of it as very effective psyops. For instance, we've spent a hell of a lot of $$$ on Israel since 1969. Much of it going to illegal West Bank/Gaza settlements which accomplished next to nothing for the US, in fact were a double negative - bad for the long-term viability of Israel and bad for how the US was perceived in the Muslim world. FDChief's talking about rational policy now, not necessarily narrow interest, as in the example of Prince Henry and the Spanish, so yes, let's consider what was in our best interests in 1969 and if it would have been worth the cost.

    So, what if - for example - we had put the money we sunk in weapons deliveries and self-defeating support for Israel instead in the space program? This billed as "America's gift to the world" . . . Say we had a base on Mars by 1980 or so, with various foreign guests yucking it up for the cameras . . . We would have had enough good will to survive 10 squandering idiot George Bushes . . . as it was we didn't have enough to survive one and ended up with the Neocons running the whole show.

    I mean who would have considered our current plight a reasonable outcome in 1969? That after the events of 1989-91?

  11. I've posted my response to the Chief's arguments over at GFT. It went to 3 sections and I had to leave a lot of things unsaid.

  12. Heroic? Tosh.

    Brilliant yes.

    That was the day when everyone one in the World was united. A day of hope and wonder. We all imagined another World and a far, far better future.

    Then we put it all away and got back to the usual business of being stupid, ripping each other off and, of course, slaughtering each other. Oh with some looks at 'celebs' to distract us as we eat our way to death (if you are not one of those yellow or brown people beiong killed of course because they are .. sort of in the way).

    Apollo vs the Pheonix prgram ... no brainer, we all knew which one went and which one continued .... and the latter is still continuing under different names of course.

    Time for the Cockroaches to take over, because we definitely don't exhibit any of the characteristics of intelligence.

    And if we keep pushing the Russians to the limit, as we keep doing, then that time will be real soon (would we have really gone to full scale nuclear war because of that nutjob in Georgia, sadly probably yes).

  13. Do you know anything we don't about the war in Georgia, OldSkeptic? It was pretty much over before Washington could respond from where I sat.

  14. Here's a nice article about the new head of NASA. The title agrees with a lot of the things we've been saying here.

  15. First of all, I bow to no one in the desire to get humankind into space. And I think Apollo 11 was a monumental achievement, a world-changing event, and a necessary precursor to achieving that goal.

    Much as I like the writing of Tom Wolfe, some of the statements in his column are just plain silly. His view of Werner von Braun is off-the-charts crazy (as are some of von Braun’s reported “philosophical” statements). The most disturbing thing was Wolfe’s contention that “the only logical next step is a manned Mars mission.”

    No, no, no, and no. We do need to get off Earth, and we need to do that as soon as possible. But a manned Mars mission at this point would be same as the moon landing: a wonderful demonstration of technical prowess, at stupendous cost, with a questionable cost-effectiveness for the resulting tangible benefits.

    Right now the importance of getting off the earth has nothing to do with scientific exploration, colonizing the stars, or the truly bizarre idea that we need to prepare for the sun turning into a red dwarf 4 or 5 billion years from now. Even the very real need to get off-planet to avoid extinction in the event of a catastrophe is a secondary one, because we just can’t do that just yet, even with a Manhattan District type effort.

    In my experience, it is difficult or impossible to pull off a long-term and expensive project unless you can show real (read: economic) benefits at each step. Without that, investors (read: taxpayers) lose interest and start thinking about opportunity costs. A space program can almost certainly provide benefits for each step, but not by launching projects like a moon or Mars expedition.

    I agree with many of the points FDChief makes, but I come up with an entirely different conclusion. The near-term goal and benefits of a carefully designed space program ought to be moving industry (mining, power generation, heavy fabrication) to a place where we don’t much care about pollution.

    The moon has unlimited power, unlimited material resources (probably – it’s a big place), hard vacuum, and a gravity well shallow enough to get the fruits of these things down to Earth (e.g., by railgun on the Moon itself and mass drivers for the stuff find in zero-G places like the asteroid belt). A second near-term goal is to develop the capacity to do something about a comet or asteroid Kuiper belt object that threatens to smash us flat. A presence in space might even deter nuclear war, if we can use its military advantages to create a new incarnation of MAD.

    Sure, scientific research is best accomplished by (space) boots on the ground. But that is a goal we will achieve en passant when we develop the suggested foundation for a methodical “conquest” of space. In the meantime, unmanned probes continue to generate data that fuels research, and the flood of data we are already getting from this source threatens to overwhelm researchers even now.

    Let’s get started, this time with small steps rather than giant leaps.



  16. FDChief and FOXnews will probably get their wish, vile as I think it is, to starve NASA and curb manned space programs. Unfortunately for us, we have lost the will to put a permanent base on the moon; and even if the dollars could be found our industrial capacity is long broken. And more unfortunate, the ones to take up the banner and put a Jamestown on the moon will be speaking in Mandarin.

  17. I've enjoyed this thread. Just thought we oughta have one so started it. A place to share those memories we had as kids during those exciting times. The Moon Landing is something we all share and it never ceases to amaze me how many other like-minded people around the world we share it with. It has been a welcome topic/change of topic of conversation over the years.

    I don't believe it a good idea to attempt to reestablish an active space program today. Our next "big project" should be to rebuild our railroads, not attempt to reach Mars.

    That is not to say that we should have done what we did in 1970. That is gut the space program, rather we should have continued it as cultural/political propaganda. It would have been very effective, backed up with the local cultural promotion as we did before that idiot Helms and his ilk destroyed our diplomatic capabilities . . . which links with FDChief's new thread.

    It all comes down to the ability to formulate and carry out rational policy, in other words strategy, which we haven't been able to pull off in some time . . . but used to get right at least occasionally . . .

    Thanks to mike for the info on the "broken industiral capacity", I learned from that.