Tuesday, July 21, 2009

July 20, 1969

Author's note: I actually wrote this yesterday, but didn't have a chance to post it here. And, I found that the lunar landing took place on July 21 in Australia, so maybe I'll make this in honor of Aussies that worked on our space program at those remote satellite stations....but, it's July 22 in Aus right now, so never mind.

40 years ago today, two men from the United States walked on the moon, a feat never before accomplished in all of human history, and only replicated 5 times since.

I will not debate this fact.

My father is the smartest man I have ever met, or will meet. If you met him, you would be able to say the same thing as well. I’m not saying this to give you an inferiority complex, I’m saying this because he was a brilliant man. When he was a teenager, he built his own planetarium. When other kids were learning sports, he was playing around with metallic sodium, dropping it into puddles of water to see the minor explosion. And when he looked into the sky at night, he knew what he wanted to study his entire life.

In the 1950’s, the US was locked in a military race with the USSR. Each country divided up the best German rocket scientists they could find after the war, and they both went to work trying to put men in space. To win this, the US created the National Defense Education Act, which essentially paid college tuition for anyone who wanted to go to school for science, math, or engineering and use these skills to either blow up the planet, or watch it from 200 miles up in space. My dad was one of them, and in 1960, he packed up his belongings and went from Chicago to California to study Astronomy at Pomona College, one of the few colleges in the US where one could major in this degree program. By 1970, he had a PhD in Astrophysics from UCLA. So yeah, he was pretty friggin smart.

And sadly, there aren’t many like my dad anymore. Long ago, this country lost interest in pursuing the sciences, and in some cases, retarded our scientific growth. Once we landed on the moon, we felt we hit a peak, and had to try something more challenging. Whereas a sports team, upon winning one championship, does what it can to win that championship every year, our country seemingly decided, “Nahh, we’re good, we just wanted to beat the Soviets here,” and we packed it in. We went from a space program that used a missile capable of carrying 250,000 pounds of payload, to a space shuttle that could carry only 50,000. And thus we lost our edge. The space program had so much potential, and so much of it wasted. But still, my dad loved it. He loved the innovations we got from it, and the new discoveries, especially when he saw the first images from the Hubble Telescope. I didn’t see him cry when his mother and father died, but I saw him cry when the Challenger exploded in replay after replay.

We, as a country, need to set our clocks back 40 years. We need to remember that money spent in the pursuit of exploration, science and peace is worth way more than money spent helping those who don’t want help, or money spent in learning new ways to kill. We need to remember that our worth as a society is not in how many lawyers we have, or how good our professional sports teams are, but how educated our population is, and how hard we work to pull our citizens from the depths of ignorance. And we need to do this intelligently. I remember asking my dad about Bush’s plan to use the Moon as a jumping point to Mars, and he laughed it off as a joke, explaining to me how stupid it is to cart all that infrastructure to the Moon (the facilities, the fuel, etc), when the Moon only saves you a few days travel time to Mars (on a 6 month trip). We don’t need to dream big….we just need to keep dreaming, and keep pushing, and keep innovating. And we need scientists willing to do this. Scientists like my dad. I sometimes hear people question whether or not we walked on the moon, and to those people, I can say with assurance that it was people like my dad who put those men on the moon, and if they were as smart as my dad, then it damn well did happen. We were at one time a nation of people who dreamt of nothing but putting people in space, and the benefits from those dreams are immeasurable. We need to go back to having those dreams again. We may not have been a better country then, but people back then were sure working a lot harder to make it a better country. People like my dad, who taught two generations of college students the same love for the stars that he had.

And one day, maybe his love of science will rub off on someone else with that same dream, which is to never stop learning, and never stop pushing for the stars, so that we can one day set foot on the Moon, and continue our unfinished business.

40 years ago today, two men from the United States walked on the moon. I will not debate this.


  1. Very elegant and beautiful post. I'm sure it would make your dad beam with pride. I've never paid much attention to the space program but you pose such a convincing argument for a dedicated revival that it causes to me to stop and think about it.

  2. This impassioned plea for support for the Space Program will undoubtedly make up for wasting my dad's hard-earned money getting a degree in Political Science.

    OK, not even close, but the thought was there.

  3. 40 years ago today, two men from the United States walked on the moon. There IS NO debate. Anyone who seriously gives credence to crackpot conspiracy theories about Nevada soundstages... there are no words for that level of cretinous self-delusion. It's that invasion of superstition and anti-thought which has propagated the downfall of science - when more people believe in angels and fairies than evolution... dammit I'll just end up ranting so I'll stop.

  4. Everyone forgets about all the gadgets and ideas that came either directly from or were based on research in the space program. Some people would call the space program a waste of money. Some people would be fools.

    Bring on a decent orbital station and an expedition to Mars!

  5. Awesome post Steve - ::raising a glass of Tang in honor of your father::

  6. Yobbo, I think I love you.

    YD, that's one of the great things about the space program, all the swag we got from it.

    Rhino, just don't do like I did as a toddler, and remove the lid from the sippy cup and spray Tang all over the car....800 miles from home on vacation.