When We Walked on the Moon

Ed Hudgins's picture
Submitted by Ed Hudgins on Sat, 2009-07-18 17:34

When We Walked on the Moon

by Edward Hudgins

July 17, 2009 -- As a child I was fascinated by astronomy and space, and I hoped to live to see the day when men would travel to the Moon. In 1969 I managed to snag a summer high school internship at Goddard Space Flight Center in Beltsville, Maryland. Thus I was able to be an extremely small part of one of the greatest human achievements when, on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first human beings to land and walk on the lunar surface.

I was like a kid in a solar-system-sized candy store! I was able to watch the launch and splashdown from the control room; they let a kid like me just walk right in and sit in the visitors’ gallery! I was able to follow every step of the Apollo 11 mission; I still have my thick copy of the flight plan, labeled AS-506-/CSM-107/LM-5, and a hundred high-resolution lunar mapping photos.

Forty years later I reflect on the two meanings, one political, the other philosophical, of what happened on that “Where were you?” date.

From the Moon to the Mud

The Moon landing was spearheaded by NASA, a government agency created for political purposes and national prestige as well as for scientific discoveries. There were several reasons for its success in reaching the Moon ahead of the Soviets. NASA had a very focused mission and definite deadline. It had as much taxpayer money as it needed. And it had personnel from the private sector as well as the military who were committed to the mission and willing to heroically give their all to achieve it. These people deserve our praise and admiration.

But in the decades since the landing NASA has become bloated, bureaucratic, and mired in the mud of parochial political concerns of politicians. This is the fate of all government agencies, no matter the quality of the individuals working for them.

Consider the example of NASA’s current principal project. The space station was originally proposed in the mid-1980s with a price-tag of about $8 billion and a projected completion date in the early 1990s. Instead, with redesigns and even downsizing, it will not be completed until 2010, at a cost of well over $100 billion. Perhaps the goal was as much to keep money flowing to contractors as to build a space station. Most scientists see little value in the station compared to other possible uses for that money. And, incredibly, NASA is now planning to de-orbit the station and let it burn up in the atmosphere in 2016, only five years after completion.

Just the kind of astronomical waste you’d expect from government!

Enterprise in Orbit

NASA has failed, as it had to, to commercialize access to space—that is, to bring down the costs and improve the quality in the way the private sector has done for cars, air travel, televisions, personal computers, and cells phones.

But private entrepreneurs have been able to overcome many barriers placed in their way by governments, and in recent years have begun to provide access to space in the same ways that innovators in the past have provided so many other goods and services. In 2004 Burt Rutan won the private $10 million Ansari X-Prize by building a craft that could travel into space with a crew capacity of three, twice in a two-week period. He’s now working with airline and railroad entrepreneur Richard Branson to provide sub-orbital flights to the public at a price that will allow many people to venture outside of our atmosphere.

Elon Musk, through his company SpaceX, has designed and built private rockets from the ground up and recently launched a satellite. Robert Bigelow, through his company Bigelow Aerospace, has launched a one-third-size version of an innovative space station and plans to launch a full-sized model soon for a fraction of the cost of NASA’s orbiting white elephant.

Such entrepreneurs are creating the infrastructure that will make us a space-faring civilization and should provide the paths back to the Moon and onto Mars.

The Leap for Mankind

The Moon landing also highlights two views of humans and our place in the universe. When Apollo 11 touched down in the Sea of Tranquility, the United States was in turmoil not only about then-current political issues like the Vietnam War and civil rights, but also about the means and ends of human life. As Ayn Rand noted at the time, Apollo represented the view that the human mind is our unique tool for survival and for flourishing, and that joy and happiness from our achievements, most dramatically represented by the Moon landing, are our proper goals.

Another view, represented by the counter-culture of the time, played down or rejected reason in favor of more shallow emotional indulgence, questioned the value of technology, and even placed the environment on par with or above humans in value.

Today the battle of these two visions continues, with proponents on both sides and many individuals with minds schizophrenically in both camps. Many young people who were not born when a Saturn V rocket carried Armstrong and Aldrin to the Moon love the products of the human mind—laptops, iPhones, the Internet. But many also feel guilty about the fact that technology, by definition, is altering the environment and material resources in order to serve human needs. They feel guilty about being human. They are obsessed with “going green,” not simply to insure that air is breathable and water drinkable for humans but also to minimize the impact of humans on the world. This is an attitude that will keep us in the mud!

But the great human achievements that are yet to come—returning to the Moon, landing on Mars, terraforming that planet’s atmosphere to make it into another habitat for humanity—will require a human life with all its requirements as the standard of value.

Neil Armstrong’s first words when stepping onto the surface of the Moon, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” well expressed the spirit of that mission. And those of us who shared that spirit were, in spirit, on the Moon with Armstrong and Aldrin that day forty years ago.


For further reading:

*Ayn Rand, “Apollo 11.” The Objectivist, September 1969. Reprinted in The Voice of Reason, 1990.

*Ayn Rand, “Apollo and Dionysis.” The Objectivist, December 1969. Reprinted in Return of the Primitive, 1999.

*Edward Hudgins, editor, Space: The Free-Market Frontier . The Cato Institute, 2002.

*Edward Hudgins, “Celebrating Apollo 11's Sense of Life.” July 20, 2004.

*Edward Hudgins, “Apollo 11 on Human Achievement Day.” July 20, 2005.

*Edward Hudgins, “A Voyage Across the Final Frontier: Cosmos: A Personal Voyage.” The New Individualist, July-August 2007.

*Edward Hudgins, “Individualism in Orbit: Morality for the High Frontier.” The New Individualist, July-August 2007.

Quote of the week

Ross Elliot's picture

"We don't idle well, as a species."

And that would be because we don't idle well as individuals.

The case for space exploration...

Frediano's picture

...couldn't be clearer; gradients drive everything. Mankind is at or very close to the end of a 2D surface growth paradigm- a natural gradient between civilizations and frontiers. Not a lament, but an observation: our technological range, our ability to exert C4 and conduct commerce over distance, has consumed geopolitical surface frontier, and is exerting pressure to merge 'civilizations' into a singular, totalitarian, gradientless 'civilization.' The end of that natural gradient is ... an endgame. Our technological range is growing at its fastest rate at the very moment that we have all but overwhelmed natural 2D surface gradient/frontiers. The gears we hear grinding is the attempt to rapidly paradigm shift from a 2D surface growth model of our economies, without a clutch.

The nature of that once gradient was, it created a range of opportunities and economies, all the way from the center of each civilization to each civilization's frontier/border. The nature of tending towards a gradientless 'The Global Economy' is, a shepherding of all frontier/opportunities to increasingly narrow intellectual and sometimes pure virtual fields of endeavour. There are still plenty of frontier opportunities in the modern world, but they are in increasingly narrow intellectual fields. The price of admission is ever more specialized education, and in a world pushing ten billion people, the truth of 'OneSizeDoesNotFitAll' is bearing down on us hard.

There are positive factors which restore gradient, and there are negative factors(war, disease, famine, natural disasters.) The exploration of space is a positive factor. It would be incredibly narrow minded to look at the 60's space program, and think that all we got out of it was a dozen men walking on the Moon and a few hundred pounds of rocks. The *effort* to put those 12 men there and bring them back safely spun off tremendous gains in micro electronics, computer hardware and software, material science, etc., well beyond its inspirational role for an entire world. What we achieved in return for accepting that challenge was that human intellectual and physical effort, which is what really drives economies. Those intense efforts spawned entire industries which have sustained our economies for decades. But in addition to the practical benefits, the biggest benefit was unaccounted for and unaccountable: the entire world looked up, and said simply, 'we can do such things,' and did other great things as well, famously and not. Why we aren't tonight able to look up in the night sky and see the lights of bases on the Moon to inspire us... was a choice; a really bad choice. A choice we should be ashamed of.

I fully understand why, at the end of his life, 40 years after the fact, Neil Armstrong doesn't want to talk about the event; we as a species didn't live up to the event. We cast it aside, as inconsequential, and we are over-run with Whoopy Goldbergs today, making the world stupider with every breath of her folksy "Is it just me who noticed, but who was holding the damn camera?" skepticism. Is that funny, is she just incredibly stupid? The world, as it is, heaps boundless reward on a Whoopy, for selling stupidity, and makes Neil Armstrong the butt of jokes. I can see why he'd decline much comment, plus, it is probably just not in his nature. But, that leaves the narrative in the hands of the Whoopys of the world.

There was also a tremendous gradient of opportunities created all the way from the Moon to all the industries that supported the effort, the point being, the benefits from the program were not simply a great view of the earth from the Moon for a dozen explorers.

We naked, sweaty apes, when missionless, tend towards carcass carving and nonsense. We don't idle well, as a species. The last such period of depressed gradient was the Dark Ages. We just don't do 'stasis' well, and that in and of itself is reason enough to embrace space exploration. We need to restore gradient, else all that is left is a graceless end game.

See "The Case for Mars"

Ed Hudgins's picture

See "The Case for Mars" by Robert Zubrin. He doesn't see a problem with gravity holding in the atmosphere. Zubrin is the scientist and Mars Society founder who came up with the innovative, cheap way to go to Mars. Among other things, the largest cost to traveling is carrying return fuel. Solution: Have a lander go to Mars before the manned mission and make return fuel--methane--out of the carbon dioxide in the Martian atmosphere. Life off the land!

A more serious problem could be the fact that Mars does not have a liquid core and thus doesn't generate the sort of magnetic field that shields the Earth from lots of harmful radiation. Zubrin thinks that won't be a problem either.

Not sure about

gregster's picture

the terraforming of Mars:

landing on Mars, terraforming that planet’s atmosphere to make it into another habitat for humanity

Some say its gravity can't maintain an atmosphere.

Mind you ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

... just watching the Apollo 13 doco—an even more incredible story. Everything that could have gone wrong did. And those guys improvised a solution each time, including duct tape and underwear. And the astronauts even cracked jokes in the face of seemingly impossible odds. And there was even a time when Hollywood would make a movie about it. The greatest rescue mission in history.

I wonder what Mr. Parille and his fellow-humanity-diminishers have to say about that?

Under Nixon NASA went from

Ed Hudgins's picture

Under Nixon NASA went from science and exploration to freight hauling. The reusable shuttle was supposed to launch one a week and bring the costs of access to space way down. Instead it cost as much or more than the Saturn V’s used in Apollo and never managed more than nine flights a year. Governments simply can’t reduce costs and commercial goods and services.

NASA is graying in part because it’s just not to exciting place it was at its height. It’s been downing and should be downsized a lot more. Thus for many it’s not seen as a stable place for a career. There is indeed hope that we’ll become a space-faring civilization through the efforts of private entrepreneurs.

What the Apollo 11 crew did was indeed heroic, inspiration, and dangerous. If you listen to the audio of the descent to the lunar surface, you hear Capcom counting down—“One minute …. 30 seconds.” They cut it close but as Armstrong said later, he had no intention of traveling 250,000 miles only to abort the mission and turn around and go back only a few hundred feet from his destination.

"Shadow of the Moon" is a fine documentary. I'll firing up my DVD with it tonight. And thanks Sandi! I try to keep up standards! And Buzz Aldrin’s looking pretty good for a 79 year old.

Excellent piece

Frediano's picture

Enjoyed this immensely.

Can't really pin it all on one man, but if I had to, Nixon was the visionless midwife of our stillborn government space program. He took us from the Moon to the muddy spectre of a holding pattern in space. Could the reason have really been so petty that it had to do with peeing on JFK's grave?

Thanks for posting this.

Do you have any thoughts the long term 'greying' of NASA? I'm not sure its just NASA, but all of Aero&Astro. The news of the 'flight' to the private endeavors gives some hope.

I watched the same doco

Sandi's picture

"In Shadow of the Moon" on 3 on Saturday night, and was very pleasantly surprised to see the ratings. Rotten Tomato's had the critics rating of 100% (positive). I have not seen that before.

By the way, Dr Hudgins. A splendid and dapper photograph of you, I must say!


Lindsay Perigo's picture

Watched an anniversary doco on the History Channel last night. I had no idea they ran out of fuel seconds before landing. Or that there was only ever a 50% chance of the astronauts getting off the moon once they were on it. Nixon even had a eulogy drafted given the strong possibility they would perish.

Duncan Jones...

Marcus's picture

...is NOT Bowies sons new name. It is his original name.

He was born, Duncan Zowie Haywood Jones.

His father was born, David Robert Hayward-Jones.


AShortt's picture

Thank you mister Hudgin's great stuff!

Not to be to sci-fi geeky about it all but I am really looking forward to seeing this 'Moon': http://www.sonypictures.com/cl... it has that 2001 look I like in this type of flick and Sam...well I don't get enough of his quirky yet riveting performances. Duncan Jones is Bowies sons new name, guess he wants to come off really INDY ;n)

Don't forget that Buzz Aldrin...

Marcus's picture

...has just come out publicly to say that man-made Global Warming is a load of nonsense!

Apparently Neil Armstrong no longer wants to talk publicly about the moon-landing, can't think why.

One point though, Ed.

"He’s now working with airline and railroad entrepreneur Richard Branson to provide sub-orbital flights to the public at a price that will allow many people to venture outside of our atmosphere."

You can't really call Branson an "airline and railroad entrepreneur". He owns the virgin group of companies, one of which is involved with the running of trains and one of which is an airline. The first Virgin company was a record company, so if anything he might be called a "music entrepreneur". He also has a mutiple host of the companies ranging from Virgin Books to Virgin Money.

Paradoxically Branson's son is a greenie and Branson therefore often pays lip service to green issues such as Global Warming.

In wikipedia Branson is described as being a Libertarian, so despite his green tinge, I doubt he hopes for any Government intervention to solve environmental problems.

I think the name of his new space company, "Virgin Galactic", deserves a mention though. I love the name, it sounds like something out of an Isaac Assimov novel Smiling


I loved it when Aldrin gave

Ed Hudgins's picture

I loved it when Aldrin gave the Moon hoax nut a "direct reply." And the nut was bigger than Aldrin!

NASA's been searching for years for the original tapes of the Moon landing. (They were aupposed to be fairly hi-rez. The picture had to be downgraded for the quality of TV braodcasts at the time.) Erasing them was inexcussable and what to expect from a government bureaucracy. So I guess this is what we can expect when the government has all of our health-care records.

Yes Ed

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Very nice indeed. Many excellent points, including "guilty for being human."

Took me back to 7th form geography class where we were listening in awe.

I gather NASA have wiped the original tapes of the event. I saw some bureaucrat defending that atrocity on the grounds that "proper procedures" wee followed. Kinda reinforces your point about "mired in bureaucracy."

Nice, Ed.

Ross Elliot's picture

And I'll never forget the report of Aldrin punching that moon landing hoax idiot who asked him if he *really* walked on the lunar surface.

Mine: We Walked On The Moon

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.