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Apollo

More than four years before I was born we got to the moon. Forty years later we have the International Space Station which is basically two Russians and a Yank having a caravan holiday no further away from me than if they were doing it in Sussex. They should have booked that with Haven. It would have been a lot cheaper.

I dunno how I feel about Apollo in particular or NASA in general. The achievement was phenomenal and it certainly pissed on the Soviet barbeque from a great height (approximately 250,000 miles) but ultimately it was not the way to go technically. I’m not going to go into that now. As a recovering astrophysicist we would be here some time…

I was going to write about the cultural importance instead but the hell with that as well! I’ll just go personal.

It was simply magnificent. From Kill Devil Hills to Tranquility Base in two generations is an awesome achievement. From a couple of fellas in a shed in Ohio building something with less horsepower than a scooter to the folks in the VAB assembling something with more horsepower than God Himself in 66 years is astonishing.

I am struggling for words here mainly because it is hard to be original over something that everyone will be commenting on right now but also because I am just so awestruck. The sound of a Saturn V has a long echo… And maybe that’s the problem. Things like manned spaceflight might join Concorde and nuclear power in the legend bin to be recycled on the Discovery channel until they become not stepping stones to our future but almost myths. I know this is turning into an almost Tolkienesque lament about decline and fall but when I see through my misty eyes the video of the Apollo launches I see a tremendous hope for the future and a future we somehow lost about the same time we lost Vietnam and then descended into our the current miserableness that thinks building windmills to keep the sky from falling is a technological priority.

Anyway… Neil, Buzz and Michael you are the stuff of legend and I salute you but I so hope that will become literally a legend because you and every technician who merely handled a posidrive for your trip is worth about three trillion George Monbiots (or roughly five trillion Jonnie Porritts in old money) and that is only valuing those two sods as cat food and then only suitable for the hungriest and least picky of cats.

We are made from the stars and not the mud that Marduk heaped up or the dust that Allah did or whatever deranged process the Gaians believe in and we wanna go home.

Per Ardua Ad Astra!

5 Comments

  1. Infidel753 says:

    Actually, in those intervening forty years we’ve explored most of the solar system using technology as far advanced over the Saturn V as the Saturn V was over the Wright Brothers’ plane. Advanced enough, in fact, to abandon the expensive, dangerous, and pointless stunt of sending humans along physically.

    The de facto purpose of sending humans to the Moon was to upstage the Soviet Union in the perceived technological pecking order after Sputnik and Gagarin. Scientifically speaking, there wasn’t much point to it.

  2. Sam Duncan says:

    I watched the Apollo 11 crew meeting the President yesterday (how did that guy get a reputation for eloquence?); they’re all over 80. This isn’t funny any more.

    Around the same time as Apollo, some bearded blokes, probably wearing white coats (I like to think so), were busy attempting to get a computer on one side of America to talk to another one on the other side. It was a laborious and temperamental process. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. The computers were hugely expensive, and they were the only two in the world that could do it.

    Now I’m sitting here posting a message on a machine that I don’t even know the location of, using one that would barely fetch a ton second hand. Making difficult things easier is what we humans do. It’s what separates us from the beasts of the field who still haven’t worked out that they could open the gate and fuck off any time they liked.

    So why is going to the moon harder now than it was then? Something ain’t right here.

  3. El Draque says:

    Being one of those who sat up all night to watch the first steps on the moon – the rest of the family went to bed, I couldn’t believe it – I echo the sentiment. It was a time when all was possible.
    Still, often forgotten is that at about the same time – within a day or two – the Russians had actually landed a robot craft on the moon and fired a few ounces of rock back to earth. Much cheaper, less risky to life.
    I’ve been following the Voyager story since when they were first planned, sometime about 1970 (memory fades, I guess 1970 by who I was in the pub with.) The Grand Tour was the epic of techie achievement for decades. 1970′s technology, magnetic tapes to record the data and such.
    It makes my mind bend, to realise they had to send it instructions to photograph (tracking the picture too) with huge time delays, and the pictures came back smack in the middle of the screen.
    You can check on the Jet Propulsion Laboratory site any time for the current position (literally – they give you the miles from earth, though I suppose they could give any number and you couldn’t disprove it.)
    They’re still in contact with it, I think, it’s running on a six volt power supply and beaming back data from outside the influence of the sun.

    And – gives me vertigo to think of it – it will go on for ever. For ever, unless it hits a star. That’s eternity. That’s Mankind; since we looked at distant hills and wondered – what’s over there? – that’s what we do.
    We don’t just live for comfort. We want wide horizons and adventure. So let’s hail Apollo, Voyager, and the eventual trip to Mars, for they are what we are.

  4. HSLD says:

    I watched it live, but it’s a very vague memory because I was a toddler.
    The TV we had at the time was probably of 1950′s vintage – the wooden cabinet took up half the room but the screen was about 12 inches square and curved like a goldfish bowl.

    I’m an Apollo fanatic, I have devoured every scrap of information I can about the program ( and manned spaceflight in general ). I reckon I’d have a pretty fair chance of operating the CSM ( apart from the ‘right stuff’ steely eyed test pilot skills which are needed when things go wrong )

    Absolutely nothing compares to my first view of Jupiter through a telescope though. It was the mid 70′s and the telescope was a pretty crappy 2 inch Tasco refractor.
    Given that the mount was a wobbly alt-az it’s a wonder I found Jupiter at all. When I did the image was like a fuzzy pin head, but I could make out the equatorial belts.

    Now I have a 5 inch refractor which would probably give some cracking planetary views, but by the time I have lugged it outside and set it up then it’ll piss it down with rain.

  5. Sam D,
    I don’t know where I first read this, but going to the moon is more difficult because of regulations.
    Had the current regime been in charge of westward expansion after the Louisiana Purchase, the first pioneers would’ve been four guys in a condo on the other side of the Mississippi river from Saint Louis. Anything more than that wouldn’t be safe.

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