That's One Small Step for Man
This past Saturday, Neil Armstrong passed away at the age of 82.
He was selected as backup command pilot of Gemini 11. He also was backup commander for Apollo 8, the 1st manned spacecraft to orbit the moon. Fortunately, he didn't have to step in, so he was able to serve as commander of Apollo 11. The rest, as they say, is history.
After his flight he decided not to fly again. In 1970 he became deputy associate administrator for aeronautics at NASA. He also served on the panel that investigated the Apollo 13 explosion. In 1971 he resigned from NASA. He taught aerospace engineering at the University of Cincinnati for several years. He was on the commission that investigated the space shuttle Challenger disaster. He also served on the board of directors of several companies.
For the most part, he did his best to keep a low profile. But in 2010 he went public with his concerns about President Barack Obama's space policy. He was concerned that it shifted attention away from a return to the moon & emphasized private companies developing spaceships. He also testified before Congress. In an email to The Associated Press, Armstrong said he had "substantial reservations." Along with more than two dozen Apollo-era veterans, he signed a letter calling the plan a "misguided proposal that forces NASA out of human space operations for the foreseeable future." (more on this later)
But no matter how much he accomplished, & it was a lot, he will always be remembered for his participation in Apollo 11 & the 1st landing on the Moon.
For me the events of 20 July 1969 are indelibly etched on my mind. It was a somewhat warm Sunday afternoon. My Grandpa & Dad had gone fishing. Like, many others I was watching the coverage of the landing that afternoon, CBS with Walter Cronkite of course. The Eagle (name of the lunar module) touched down at 4:17 pm CDT.
Like I said, I grew up with the space program, from the launch of Mercury 3 with Alan Shepherd, through the Gemini program, thrrough the fire in Apollo 1 killing 3 astronauts to its culmination in our landing on the Moon. Like many a kid, I became addicted to orange Tang.
I had built a model of the Apollo Space craft orbiting the moon with a detatchable lunar module. Thanks to my Uncle Sam, I had a moon globe so I could see exactly where the landing. I still have it, although the far side is lacking in the details now available.
The year before this, the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey came out. It showed mankind having a permanent presence in space, from a space station orbiting the Earth to a permanant manned presence on the Moon to preparing to go further out into the Solar System. Now it seemed to me & many others of my generation that 2001 was more reality than fiction.
We do have a space station. But it is nothing like that in the movie. We don't even have a shuttle, government or privately run flying to space. (PanAm doesn't even fly planes these days, it just runs a railroad.) We have no base on the Moon & no definite plans for anything beyond.
While I am sure Armstrong was not opposed to private companies developing spaceships, he was opposed, & rightly so, to Obama basicly gutting manned space flight for America. But the government does still have a huge role to play.
As John Steele Gordon said last in a lecture last February (published in the July/August 2012 issue of Imprimus) "government can be good at doing basic research, such as in space technology, where the costs were far beyond the reach of any private organization. Only government resources could have put men on the moon. Nevertheless, I’m encouraged to see that the next generation of rockets is being developed by private companies, not NASA. That’s a step in the right direction." The same could be said of going to Mars. Instead of making it a balanced both, Obama has basicly put limits on what we will be able to do in the immediate future.
I am very happy to see private companies step up. This is what has happenned throughout history. The 1st explorations of America by Europe were funded by governments. But later private enterprize stepped in. Sadly for many years after Apollo private development was discouraged & only recently encouraged. But we still need a manned space program from NASA as well.
Besides Tang (not invented by NASA, just made famous), much of what we take for granted today is a result of manned space flight. The list is too long to include but you can read about some of them here & here. These came about because of a proper cooperation between the government & the private sector.
Instead of wisely spending money, we are just getting further into debt. In doing so, we are destroying the possiblity for America to continue to be great & the leader in developing the technology of the future. While I suspect this is exactly what Obama wants, we can't let it stand. What we have done has been to the benifit of all, not just America. Without what we have done, much of the tools to aide those in the 3rd world to have clean water, be cured of diseases & help them lead a better life wouldn't exist.
Armstrong was a space pioneer & a hero. The best way we could honor him now is to go back to what made us great, the willingness to find challenges, like manned flight into space, & find solutions to what keeps us from overcoming them.
Yes, there will be risks, like there were for those who explored the oceans*, but the cost is worth it.
*I don't think the average person really grasps the risks made by those pioneers in space flight. Even though I watched all the coverage of the Mercury, Gemini & Apollo flights, I know I didn't fully understand until I visited the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville AL in 1989. (Ditto with Columbus & the other exploratory voyages until I was on a replica of La Niña.) I got to see an actually Mercury capsule, a Gemini trainer capsule & an Apollo capsule. They were smaller than most cars. I got to stand besides 1 of the Saturn V rocket nozzles, which was 1/3 taller than me. Then to see a full sized replica of the Apollo 11 Saturn V. The Apollo capsule is miniscule in comparison to the rest of the rocket. The early astronauts were truly heros who bravely risked all so that I can be sitting here typing this on a computer that wouldn't be without their efforts & those who developed the equipment they used.