On this 40th anniversary of the moon landing, the Economist is rolling out a flashback to its original report of that seminal event, dated July 26, 1969.
Of course, the piece exalts the achievement and the seemingly unbounded potential that it encapsulated – as it should have.
Even more interesting though are some rather prescient words about a future in which space becomes quotidian:
When new land is struck, behind the explorers come the anonymous toilers to cut the roads and harbours. Space will be no different from earth in this. So it will be a long, expensive and necessarily less exciting slog than the flight of the Eagle. And as the excitement dies and familiarity sets in, the voices that say the money could be better spent on ending wars and poverty on earth must gain converts.
The last sentence, taken in isolation, would better represent the situation we face today. If only we could be so fortunate as to be fed-up with money spent on colonizing the moon; rather, NASA has found even worse ways to squander billions, if not trillions of dollars over the past 40 years.
As we question the future of NASA, I find it apropos to close with the words immediately following the above exerpt – words that I think explain a direction and purpose for a space program that has long been drained from NASA:
But this argument overlooks the factor in human make-up that sets us apart from the apes. When man became a tool-maker, he ceased to be a monkey. The human race’s way of sublimating its highest aspirations has been to build the greatest and grandest artifact that the technology of the time can achieve. Through the pyramids, the parthenons and the temples, built as they were on blood and bones, to the be-spired cathedrals conceived and constructed in ages of great poverty, the line runs unbroken to the launch pad of Apollo. Oddly—or perhaps not so oddly—the churchmen with their unstinting praise of the astronauts have recognised this where the liberally-educated rationalists with their bored carping, and their ill-bred little jokes, have not. Spiralling to the planets expresses something in human nature that relieving poverty, however noble a cause that is, does not. And to the planets, sooner rather than later, man is now certain to go.