Moon Landing Plus 40 – One Last Step for Mankind?
Reflecting on the 40th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon, Megan McArdle wonders why the space program lost its momentum. Jim Henley reckons it’s because “space travel is expensive, dangerous, unprofitable and (medically, biologically) kind of” problematic.
I’m old enough to have been alive for the moon walk but too young to remember it. I admire the adventurism and have a sense nostalgia for it and very much enjoyed “The Right Stuff,” “Moon Shot,” and “From the Earth to the Moon.” I even got enthusiastic about the first couple of flights of the space shuttle.
Alas, space flight now has the romantic appeal of commercial air travel. Despite being dangerous as hell, shuttle missions have been ho hum for twenty years; they’re only interesting when they’re tragic. The space station has only slightly more drama than any other scientific laboratory.
In the old days, our astronauts were heroic men culled from the ranks of military fighter pilots and test pilots; now, they’re mostly technicians. As rigorous as the selection and training process is — and, again, as risky as actually heading off to space is — most of those who go off to space are the functional equivalent of those of us sitting in the passenger section of a Boeing 777 typing away on our laptops.
Space may be the final frontier but, absent some incredible advance in technology, there are no great manned missions in our near future. How much of an advance over walking on the moon would walking on Mars really be? And anything beyond Mars is so far away that it simply doesn’t make sense to try to send human beings there, since it would take years.
Oh, and scientists would rather have the money to fund better telescopes and more efficient ways of studying space.
Frankly, I’m more anxious for the next “Star Trek” movie to come out than I am for the next big manned space project. Although, if we develop warp technology and the Vulcans initiate first contact, I could change my mind.