[Note: This post is on top all day for the anniversary. Keep scrolling for new posts]

came from outer space:

The aliens did not come across vast expanses of space to eat us. Or take our resources. Or another reasons. Frankly, they’d rather be on their way; they have places to go, things to do. Their spaceship broke down, and it needs repairing. For some reason they have to assume human form to fix it, though, and this means duplicating the bodies of ordinary Arizona townsfolk. As the hero asks them: Why? You built the thing, surely you can fix it without turning into us.

“Yes,” says the creature in an echoey monotone, “but this would require a budget that allows for several creatures, which we do not have. Also, grad students in film school decades from now would not be able to cite the movie as an example of subconscious dread of Communist infiltration.”

And forty years ago, while It didn’t come from outer space, we went to outer space. Apollo XI lifted off on July 16th, 1969, to deliver Mike Collins, Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong to the moon. And went live about an hour ago, where you can follow the mission in real time, from now until they return next week. The Saturn is sitting on the pad, and they’re launching in less than half an hour.

[Update a little later]

Alan Boyle has a lot more Apollo-related links, and a story about the restoration of the original video of the landing.

I’ll be keeping this post at the top all day.

[Late morning update]

An alternate history, from Henry Spencer: Welcome to Lunarville.

[Update in the afternoon]

There’s some stupid discussion over at James Nicoll’s place:

Let’s be magnanimous, and as a thought experiment keep NASA’s budget at its peak as a share of the American economy for the next forty-three years.

Do we get five thousand people on the moon? *really*? Those are some interesting economies of scale. Remember, NASA’s budget would only be six times bigger than its current.

A straight linear extrapolation gives ca. eighty-four American associated space deaths.

It’s entirely idiotic to do a “straight linear extrapolation.”

Could NASA have had that many on the moon by now with a steady budget? Who knows? But I know I could have. In fact, it would easily be an order of magnitude more. But task one would have been a serious effort to reduce launch costs.

[Update about 2 PM EDT]

More thoughts from Derb:

As I’ve made plain in several columns, I am a space buff from far back, and I find the exploration of space, including the manned exploration, thrilling beyond measure. That’s my taste in vicarious thrills. Other people have different tastes therein: They are thrilled by sporting achievements, or medical advances, or cultural accomplishments. If the federal government is going to pay for my thrills, why shouldn’t it pay for everyone else’s? If putting men on the moon is a proper national goal requiring billions of federal dollars, why isn’t winning the soccer World Cup, or curing the common cold, or resolving the Riemann Hypothesis?

As a minimal-government conservative, I’d prefer the federal authorities do none of those things. I’d prefer they stick to their proper duties: defending our coasts and borders, maintaining a stable currency, organizing national disaster relief, etc. Leave manned space travel to the entrepreneurs.

That’s pretty much my attitude as well, but I don’t think that we’re going to shut down NASA, so I will continue to work hard to get it to spend the money less crazily.

[Update at 3 PM]

Andrew Chaikin:

Who would have predicted that in 2009 we would have to go back 40 years to find the most futuristic thing humans have ever done? Apollo 17 commander Gene Cernan has said that it is as if John Kennedy reached into the 21st century, grabbed a decade of time, and spliced it neatly into the 1960s and 70s. Ever since then, I’ve been waiting to see us get back to where we were in 1972.

Now, in the midst of the real 21st century, none of us can say when humans will go back to the moon – or what language they will speak when they get there. If Chinese taikonauts become the next lunar explorers, will we be spurred to action, or shrug it off? Or will we have somehow risen above our differences and found a way to go back to the moon together?

Call me naïve, call me just another aging Baby Boomer who can’t let go of the past. But I firmly believe that Apollo was just the first chapter in a story of exploration that has no end, and will continue as long as humans are alive. And I still want to believe that when humans do return to the moon to follow in the Apollo astronauts’ lunar footsteps, it will have more of an impact than many people now realize.

It will, but only if we abandon the failed Apollo model. If it was a first chapter, the rest of the book is going to have to look very different for it to lead to exploration without end. It did indeed happen too soon, so it cost too much, and it established a terrible precedent for human space exploration that we have not recovered from to this day, as demonstrated by the current Constellation disaster. This will be the theme of my piece at The New Atlantis (which I hope will be on line in time for the anniversary on Monday, but I can’t promise it, particularly since I’ll probably be doing final editing at the conference this weekend).

16 thoughts on “It”

  1. I’ve been following the “We Choose the Moon” site since about 10 minutes before “launch.” Feh! This thing stinks. First, the countdown was one minute off [how’d they blow that!?!)–they shut down audio at about T-3:30 and didn’t start it up again for another 10 minutes or so. Rather than “real time,” the sped up the launch, with separation of first stage at about 10 seconds after launch. The picture then froze on the second stage, and started up again with another sped up segment on stage 2 separation. The audio seems to work, but there is no “real time” feel to this at all. There is some video you can click on, but some of that is sped up, too. I’ve found better stuff on Youtube. Huge disappointment.

  2. I went to the JFK Library web site this morning and experienced the same issues that Bill listed. But what’s even more annoying is NASA’s own web site — real-time Apollo 11 mission audio. The web page just sits there and does nothing.

    I draw no metaphorical conclusions from that.

  3. I did the same thing, Paul. Then I went to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum site to see what they had. I found the mission timeline, clicked on the launch video, and they just embedded the Youtube video. With all the footage they have! Lame….

  4. Does anyone find Henry’s number of 5,000 lunarville residents plausible given the funding he posits? This isn’t a question about the rationale for lunarville – just the numbers. When the link to Henry’s article was posted here,, the numbers were scoffed at by one of the commenters.

    (The people who posted also believe that He3 is not a sensible rationale for lunar exploitation, not only because fusion tech isn’t ready for it, but because the energy needed to extract He3 from the regolith exceeds the energy you could generate. But that’s a different argument.)

  5. Even if the energy needed to extract 3He is somewhat less than the energy it could generate, thecost of handling a unit of energy on the moon is likely to be many times the cost of handling the generated energy on Earth, so the economics would likely be problematic. And remember, extracting 1 ton of 3He means handling somewhere on the order of 100 million tons of regolith.

    The wild card, in my mind, would be the possibility that 3He concentrations might be much higher at high lunar latitude, if lower temperatures there greatly reduced the rate of diffusion of implanted 3He out of regolith grains.

  6. “I firmly believe that Apollo was just the first chapter in a story of exploration that has no end”

    I think he’s got that wrong. Exploration is only the first chapter. You don’t think of a never ending story of the exploration of the Americas. First they were explored, then they were settled, then they grew and evolved rich, complex and diverse societies and nations. That’s the story I want to read.

    There are so many people that believe space is only a place of missions and exploration. Yes that’s an important part, but it shouldn’t be the end goal. It’s that philosophy that gave us Apollo, the SS, and Ares

  7. The Americas were explored and settled concurrently — by members of a neolithic culture coming from Asia.

  8. Derb is an idealist, which means he leans back in his ivory tower and says Now what we need to do here is pop the whole nation into the Way Back machine, go back to 1787, and make this change and that.

    Sure. Idealists of this stripe have about zero actual influence on what nations do, which is fine, as then they can pen existential angst about the generic folly of mankind, et cetera, under the nom de plume of Cassandra.

    Me, I don’t give a damn about the theoretical arguments. If government is going to spend nigh on half my waking labor, then they better please my aspirations. I would line up Congress before a bullet-parked wall, show them the rifles already loaded, then show them the Garden of Delights with swimming pools filled with champagne and Scarlett Johanssen naked on a platter with watecress around, and say: It’s Option A or B for you, my friend. Hire the best people you can find as if you life depends on their work — which it does — and get it done. Send me the bill and I’ll write the check. Have as many meetings and self-puffing pressers as you like, but Get It Done, because I’m not a patient man.

    I guess I’m not going to make it as a constitutional scholar. Barry O would give me a D in his class, oh sadness.

    Happy anniversary, all. Did you ever think you would live to see the apex of American culture in your lifetime? Nor did I.

  9. “Did you ever think you would live to see the apex of American culture in your lifetime? Nor did I.”

    Nor do I. There’s gotta be a SpongeBob movie release sometime after my demise, a few decades from now. And it will ROCK!

    Seriously, the great projects of “The State(TM)” will likely diminish over time — too much public capital (both monetary and political) has vanished. I hope that the public’s tolerance for the despotism of our federal and state governments will diminish, though that could go either way.

  10. Witnessing the apex of our culture is one thing, but I fear we’re watching the waning of American freedom and sense.

Comments are closed.