by Jay Johansen | Dec 22, 1996
In 1994 the United States celebrated the 25th anniversary of the first manned landing on the moon. Well, "celebrated" may be too strong a word, but there were a few documentaries on the educational channels.
So my 8-year-old daughter and I watched one of these TV programs. I mentioned to her that my father had helped build the Lunar Module, the craft that actually landed on the moon. Ever since then, she has called the Lunar Module "grandpa's spaceship".
But if grandpa built a spaceship that went to the moon, she asked, are people going to the moon now? Well, no, I replied, no one has been to the moon for over 20 years. But why not, she wondered. If people could do it back then, why can't they do it now?
I wasn't prepared for the question, so I had to answer off the top of my head. Well, I explained, our country just doesn't have the energy for that sort of thing anymore. We're too busy worrying about kids who graduate school without knowing how to read, about drug abuse and gangs and violence. We're too busy trying to just keep our whole society from falling apart, we don't have the time or the energy to think of bold, ambitious projects, like traveling to the moon.
The more I think about it, the more right I think I was.
Oh, some will say that I must be blind: we're still in space. The Shuttle flies regularly.
Yes, and it goes nowhere, and does nothing. They put up a few communications satellites. They perform endless "scientific experiments" whose results interest no one. I wonder if even the specialists are really excited when we learn an estimate of the amount of methane in Jupiter's atmosphere to one more decimal place, or discover the effects of weightlessness on the growth pattern of lichens. NASA struggles to justify the continued existence of the whole program. The main reason it exists seems to be just so that we can say that we still have a presence in space, that we haven't yet given up.
Some will say that there is no point in going back to the moon. We've been there; it's done.
This is incredibly short-sighted. I recall conversations I had with my friends when I was a boy. After the moon landing, what will be the next step? Will we build a colony on the moon? Or will an orbital colony be better? Will we go on to explore the planets, or should we begin to exploit orbital space and the moon before we move on further?
The possibilities were endless, the only question was which direction to go first. None of us imagined that after the moon landing, the whole thing would just sputter out and stop.
It is as if Columbus had discovered the new world in 1492, and by and 1520 no one had bothered to go back. Instead they just sailed ships back and forth to the Azores taking more and more careful measurements of wind speed and currents.
Perhaps the moon landing was America's last great achievement. History has seen other nation's reach great pinnacles, and then stagnate.
The ancient Egyptians made great advances in mathematics and engineering, they built the unforgettable great pyramids, and then ... their history goes on with many kings rising and falling, wars won and lost. But after the building of the pyramids, they pretty much went nowhere.
The Aztecs and the Incas appear to have come out of nowhere to build great cities, highways through the jungle, amazingly accurate calandars, great works of art, and then ... then their history seems to consist of how many of their neighbors they could capture and enslave or offer up as human sacrifices.
And America: We established the most free society in history, we invented the airplane and the computer, we landed a man on the moon, and then ... then our history seems to consist of drug abuse and gang violence, and our greatest source of pride seems to be that we now recognize all sorts of depravities as fundamental constitutional rights.
I wonder what went through the head of the average person in Rome,
as the empire staggered toward collapse. Did they see the decay around them, but found themselves powerless to do anything about it? Or did they blithely say, Oh, sure, we have some problems, but what's the big deal about some barbarians hundreds of miles away and some slight deficits on the corn dole? Moral problems? Hey, those religious bigots deserved to be thrown to the lions. What right do they have to say their religion is right and others are wrong? And so what if the emperor likes to molest little boys? What he does in the privacy of his palace is no one else's business, and certainly has nothing to do with his ability to run the nation. Et cetera.
Is there hope? Of course. I'm not prepared to give up yet! And I see some hopeful signs about me. But let's not pretend that the situation is not desperate.
Though you exalt yourself as the eagle, and though you set your nest among the stars, from there I will bring you down, says the LORD.
© 1996 by Jay Johansen
Hulifran Jul 23, 2014
I would prefer to bveilee that the moon landing was real. It's more flattering to mankind, and the evidence seems to fit. Plus, of the two beliefs, it's the one less likely to make people attack you for holding it.However, I have friends that are into conspiracy theories, UFOs, the paranormal, etc., and I've seen so many people attack them--not out of any love of scientific education, but because they love the fact that they have an acceptable target to bully--that I'm pushed in the other direction, towards liking conspiracy theories.If the moon-landing-believers really want to help their cause, they should be nice to the hoax-believers, at least until the hoax-believers provoke them. Tip: believing the moon landing was faked does not count as a provocation.I was saddened by how many people cheered Buzz Aldrin punching that guy in the face. Ironically, the guy deserved it, but not for believing that the moon landing was faked, which was why most people cheered his getting punched. He deserved it for calling Aldrin a thief and a liar and trying to provoke him into creating a scene. There's a difference between someone who thinks they're the next Mulder and some reporter from TMZ.