45 Years Ago, it was my mom’s 13th birthday.
Her family watched Neil Armstrong take the first human steps on the face of the moon. I’m a big sci-fi nerd, and this moment in human history signified a step in a larger journey. Footsteps on the moon were small steps towards a larger journey. Our imaginations beat us there by years, but now our footsteps stood on the moon as stepping off points to all that remained in exploration.
45 years, and sci-fi continues to take leaps and bounds into space that we cannot yet match.
Of course, the sci-fi now and the sci-fi even at the turn of the century don’t really differ as much as I’d like, and none of it matches the technology we have managed for computation and materials. Star Trek communicators and tricorders look like jokes compared to the iphone and android equivalents, and that came out a full 3 years before the moon landing.
What amazes me about the moon landing:
1) The computational power of a slide rule – a person with a slide rule could do all the math needed. I know my peers today don’t even know what a slide rule is let alone how to use one. There are a few hobbyists out there that can work them for fun and a few people for whom abstract calculus is a play ground, but most people struggle with it. Even at the time of the moon landing mathematic tables existed in books to facilitate easy access. Yet they put someone on the moon.
2) The whole nation’s imagination captivated – my grandpa helped put together part of the saturn 5 rocket that got apollo 11 to the moon. He lived in Missouri not Michigan. He had a farm, and he still machined parts for the rocket as a second job. What other project in American History or indeed in human history took so many people from so many diverse lives and channeled them together for a project of exploration?
3) The spin off effect – so much of the technology I enjoy and am using right now was pioneered during the space program. Some of it has vastly helped human kind to connect and support one another or at least has the potential to do so. Some of it has been used to create angry birds…
What we’ve done since that would make it easier to go back:
1) Materials, Materials, Materials – we have done things with materials in the last 45 years that boggle the mind. Improvements range from crumple zones in cars to being able to make light enough windmill blades to generate vast amounts of electricity out in the panhandle of Texas. Batteries with truly amazing capacity for weight are being produced. This is all material science and to me is by far more impressive than what we’ve done with computation alone (although that has been part of it).
2) Computation – who can ignore it, we’ve got more computing power than the starship enterprise now. Hopefully, it will only be a mater of time for us to sort out more efficient travel.
But we still haven’t gone back. We were planning on it and an expedition to Mars, but actions of great pith and moment were sickled over by the pale cast of tax cuts. Despite being at one of our lowest tax rate and expecting ever more of the government, we still have a cultural fear of taxes. It’s short sighted, and our worship of the clear and easy victories and defeats of football players over the ever more complex world of physics and engineering leaves part of our cultural legacy in the dust of the moon.
Not all is lost: SpaceX and other private groups are taking to the stars. I’m sure moon base Google will exist shortly followed by Apple’s Mars Colony for Hipsters. Until then, from Russia with Love…. Soyuz…