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