Moon shot

I was alive but I was too young to remember the first moon landing. But as I was growing up, and definitely before I turned 10, there was a sense that more was to come. A moonbase in 1999 depicted on TV seemed plausible. Casual space travel by 2001 seemed almost under-stating what could be done. Even The Economist feared Europe dropping out of having a role contributing to advancement. Yet here we are. People went to the moon and then did not return for 34 odd years and counting. I do not recall that prediction being made even if there were constant voices against the expense of all of this space travel.

This hit home as I showed my 10 year old daughter this terrific website: It is tracking in ‘real time’ the whole moon expedition. At any point in time you can see what was going on exactly 40 years ago.

“What’s this?”

“It is showing where the lunar lander is. You see, here it is in orbit around the moon. They are about to land.”

“What? There are people up there now? Is that possible?”

“No, it is just showing what happened 40 years ago.”

“Oh, yes. That’s what I thought. We don’t do this anymore.”

And there you have it. It is hard to have these conversations and feel that somehow we have failed. The current generation believe what is true, that such space travel is as much as a dream as it was prior to the 1960s. I know that some will say that was all well and good given the cost. But the cost of the entire space program over that time, in today’s dollars, was $176 billion. And yes, that, in retrospect was too costly. Not because of the resources it took but because the expense surely had value in knowledge created that would built up and lead to greater things. To not have reinvested on the back of that achievement was to erode the capital value of the initial expense. Almost impossible to conceive at the time, the moon landings were a short-term policy and not a serious commitment to the future. It will leave us and the next generation wondering what could have been.

9 thoughts on “Moon shot”

  1. I am old enough to remember it exactly. It was a fantastic/surreal moment – I stood outside and looked at the moon that evening. They were there.

    The human species was going to live elsewhere in the universe – colonies on the moon, on Mars, space tourism….anything was possible.

    You are right…it didn’t happen.


  2. Yeah, I was too young too, nearly 3.
    It didn’t happen. Why?
    I blame the eighties, when everything ending and nothing new was started.
    Mmmh, about the time I entered the workforce by going on the dole.


  3. Billy Bragg:  The Space Race is Over

    When I was young I told my mum
    I’m going to walk on the Moon someday
    Armstrong and Aldrin spoke to me
    From Houston and Cape Kennedy
    And I watched the Eagle landing
    On a night when the Moon was full
    And as it tugged at the tides, I knew deep inside
    I too could feel its pull
    I lay in my bed and dreamed I walked
    On the Sea of Tranquillity
    I knew that someday soon we’d all sail to the moon
    On the high tide of technology
    But the dreams have all been taken
    And the window seats taken too
    And 2001 has almost come and gone
    What am I supposed to do?
    Now that the space race is over
    It’s been and it’s gone and I’ll never get to the moon
    Because the space race is over
    And I can’t help but feel we’ve all grown up too soon
    Now my dreams have all been shattered
    And my wings are tattered too
    And I can still fly but not half as high
    As once I wanted to
    Now that the space race is over
    It’s been and it’s gone and I’ll never get to the moon
    Because the space race is over
    And I can’t help but feel we’ve all grown up too soon
    My son and I stand beneath the great night sky
    And gaze up in wonder
    I tell him the tale of Apollo And he says
    Why did they ever go?
    It may look like some empty gesture
    To go all that way just to come back
    But don’t offer me a place out in cyberspace
    Cos where in the hell’s that at?
    Now that the space race is over
    It’s been and it’s gone and I’ll never get out of my room
    Because the space race is over
    And I can’t help but feel we’re all just going nowhere


  4. Wait, this is an economics blog.  OK, how about I post this lyric, which is the only song I know that is entirely concerned with opportunity cost (although I agree more with the sentiments of this post than with the sentiments of the song).  And then I promise to stop spamming.
    Phil Ochs: Spaceman
    Way high, so high:
    Travelin’ fast and free.
    Spaceman, look down:
    Tell me what you see.
    Can you see the hunger there
    Strike without a sound?
    Can you see the food you burn
    As you circle round?
    Way high, so high:
    All the world will cheer.
    Spaceman, look down:
    Tell me what you hear.
    Can you hear a child cry,
    Body filled with pain?
    Deadly sores when cures are there–
    How much fuel remains?
    Way high, so high:
    Spaceship made of steel.
    Spaceman, look down:
    Tell me what you feel.
    Can you feel the money gone
    As you sail through space?
    Can you feel how many die
    When you win the race?
    Way high, so high:
    Travelin’ fast and free.
    Spaceman, look down:
    Tell me what you see.


  5. Kennedy gave us Camelot. That is the dream and the problem. It is the risk takers and the nonpragmatic who  put us on the moon.
    Bean counters and Office managers would not countenance this thinking.
    I saw the landing  in a garage with most of my year 12, then matriculation, class the feeling was  one of awe. I felt the same thing one night in 1972 having finished a shift at the election booth. Something had changed. We didn’t know what.
    With all that has happened since, I have never felt the same sense that  the world had moved. Of course if you were to set sail to Paraguay to establish a New Australia you might have the same feeling.


  6. By the way – the budget for NASA from 1958 to 2008 was 4 times the NSF budget. So you’d want to get some good spinoffs from that cash. NASA publish scientific spinoffs at the scientific spinoffs homepage, It is very clear to me that this money is well spent – for example…”A former Martin Marietta Manned Space Systems engineer, Robert T. Thurman went from analyzing airloads on the Space Shuttle External Tank to analyzing airloads on golf balls for Wilson Sporting Goods Company. Using his NASA know-how, Thurman designed the Ultra 500 golf ball, which has three different-sized dimples in 60 triangular faces (instead of the usual 20) formed by a series of intersecting “parting” lines. This balances the asymetry caused by the molding line in all golf balls. According to Wilson, the ball sustains initial velocity longer and produces the most stable ball flight for “unmatched” accuracy and distance.” This guy has saved me a heap on lost golf balls. Thank you USA.


  7. I blame the internet. When I was a kid we saved up our pocket money to buy Vinyl records. Then they invented cassetes but these didn’t copy quite as well so you still paid money for the good stuff and pop stars got to drive Ferraris. Now there’s no point in inventing or creating anything because someone will download it or copy it. So we are now going to be earthbound and listening to digital remixes of pre 80’s music….


  8. 176 Billion would pay for a lot of research to cure malaria, or build homes, secure clean water and provide food for everyone. we have limited resources, so I’m not a fan of space/astornomy programs or Seti (even though I think it kind of arrogant to thinnk we are the only thinking lifeform currently in the galaxy) norbig science projects like the large Hadron collider (who cares what we are made of). Surely we should spend resources on making our global society better for all. And once we have all the people stuff right, then we can look at the high cost-high risk programs… like colonising other planets.


  9. But what about the dividend on the national defence implications?  Sure, the Yanks could have invested in a cure for cancer and clean water for the third world, but don’t forget the role of the space race in the cold war.  I think there is some incomplete anaysis going on here (clean water wouldn’t have meant much if the communists had taken over and made every capitalist pig drink dirty water from the trough of the local gulag)


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