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December 23, 2008 11:07 PM   Subscribe

Forty Years Ago Today The first humans to leave earth orbit, Frank Borman, James A. Lovell, and William A. Anders, and their Christmas message.

More information of the flight here and here. The 3 astronauts reflect 40 years later.
posted by Snyder (71 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Uh, I don't think anyone has ever left earth's orbit, and the russians were the first ones in space.
posted by delmoi at 11:12 PM on December 23, 2008


Apollo 8 is notable for many reasons, which wikipedia sums up quite nicely:

"Apollo 8 was the first manned voyage to achieve a velocity sufficient to allow escape from the gravitational field of planet Earth; the first to enter the gravitational field of another celestial body; the first to escape from the gravitational field of another celestial body; and, the first manned voyage to return to planet Earth from another celestial body."
posted by Sir Mildred Pierce at 11:21 PM on December 23, 2008


They entered orbit around the moon. Which is, I guess, kind of meta-orbiting the Earth? But they felt the gravitational pull of another object more strongly, is the point.

Also: "...good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you - all of you on the good Earth."

Beautiful.
posted by Nomiconic at 11:22 PM on December 23, 2008


Hmm. The moon is kind of cool I think. Our little area of space would be a lot more boring without it, although, we obviously wouldn't really be able to appreciate it if it had never been there.
posted by delmoi at 11:28 PM on December 23, 2008


Also I find it really interesting that the moon can be considered a co-planet rather than a moon, due to its size and the shady definition of a planet. Just thinking about it restores some of the moon's deserved distance and alienness.
posted by Nomiconic at 11:49 PM on December 23, 2008


It's sad. I was looking at K. Eric Drexler's Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology today. It starts with about building nanomachines, and the difficulties of predicting tertiary protein folding. It doesn't, I think, explicitly mention "tertiary protein folding", but I recognized teh prolem because that's what Folding @ Home tries to solve.

And then I noticed the book was written in 1986, twenty-two years ago. And while there have been advances in nanotech since then, nothing like what we hoped for then.

And space? We got, what, six manned missions to the moon from 1969-1972, and we haven't been back since.

Contemporaneously, Dennis Ritche was inventing the C programming language at Bell Labs, and at Xerox PARC the first mice and windowing sydtems were being developed.

Bell Labs no longer exists, destroyed when the bean-counting, golden-parachuted inheritors of the Bell system breakup decided to eat their seed corn NOW! rather than fund R&D for the future. Since Reagan was president, 20 years ago, the manned space program has been about that joke of a space truck, the Shuttle. And the nanomachines that were supposed to repair my arteries? Still pipe dreams and rudimentary toys.

We've developed ever better smart missiles, and 200 million dollar attack aircraft, but we don't fund basic science anymore. And it's estimated that federally funded science requires scientists to spend almost half their time not on research, not on thinking, not on communicating with their fellows, but on grant paperwork. Folding @ Home begs for computer time left over after people have finished pretending to be dwarves and wizards playing World of Warcraft.

We had real wizards once, but we decided not to fund them. Instead we've become materialistic gold-grubbing dwarves, digging into our mothers' basements, ignorant of the math and science that produce the gee-whiz graphics that hypnotize us.

We have 50-inch TVs, but our public education system is falling apart. We have SUVs and melamine tainted milk, but we don't have a sane reliable health system.

Despite all this, we tremble on the edge of break-throughs, but never see through the funding that could make those break-throughs happen. We celebrate what we did 20, 40, 60 years ago, but what will our grandchildren celebrate? Our decaying collection of Britney Spears CDs and American Idol DVDs? We celebrate our materialism, but we don't respect or value the science and technology that makes it possible.

We've thrown away a generation. 40 years ago we put men on the moon, and they'll all be dead before another man lands there. And that man will be Chinese.

What have we done? What is to be done, now? I no longer look at the Moon anymore and feel amazement: "once we landed there, in the Sea of Tranquility, Americans named Armstrong and Aldrin and finally Cernan". I don't look at the Moon anymore.
posted by orthogonality at 11:52 PM on December 23, 2008 [37 favorites]


What's the point of going back to the moon?

And if your answer is "because it's there," then I suggest you don't really have an answer. There have been some pretty big successes when it comes to the robotic explortation of space (Mars in particular), so it's a bit disingenuous of anyone to say "after the moon landings nothing good has happened."

The fact is, barring a paradigm shift in life support and propulsion technologies, the next century in space exploration is going to be done by robots. Doing canned human flight these days is simply a terrible risk, and it's far too expensive to boot.
posted by bardic at 12:03 AM on December 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Hehe. "Explortation." I think I'll give myself a prize for that one, in the form of a drink after work.
posted by bardic at 12:04 AM on December 24, 2008


bardic writes "Doing canned human flight these days is simply a terrible risk, and it's far too expensive to boot."

So were Columbus's and Magellen's. But fine, write off manned exploration, there are good arguments for that. But give us something to die for; right now we live for the next season's lineup on NBC in HDTV.

We've turned into a nation of paper-shufflers and technicians. Our "public intellectuals" are Cornell West (a shill for Al Sharpton) and Charles Krauthammer (a shill for Israel) and our foremost self-appointed moralist has a million-dollar gambling problem. In the 1950s, people at least knew Einstein's name -- can the majority of Americans name a single scientist?

We've become a joke of a country, our aspirations centered on bigger cookie-cutter McMansions, our idea of freedom limited to sneaking a bottle of water past the Kafka-esque security theater our airports have become, our morality consists of tortured arguments justify torture, our ideal of achievement is getting rich by swindling our fellow men, our ideal of the holy mega-chuches and Prosperity Gospel. We prey for dollars and pray for dollars, most of it borrowed from the Chinese.

Does "The United States of America" mean anything, does it stand for anything, anymore? What do we aspire to, anymore?
posted by orthogonality at 12:25 AM on December 24, 2008 [7 favorites]


But give us something to die for; right now we live for the next season's lineup on NBC in HDTV.

Speak for yourself. People who can't find something worth dedicating themselves to these days simply lack imagination. Not that there isn't plenty of apathy out there, but trying to stir people up by mapping 1960's Space-Race rhetoric onto a different generation is a waste of effort IMO.

Cancer? AIDS (an actual cure)? The next energy paradigm beyond fossil fuels?

I guess it might be a generational thing, but I simply don't get all misty about the moon-landings. They were great acts of propaganda, no doubt, and the military-defense sector (to this day) benefitted enormously, but out of the many technological innovations we, as a species, are in dire need of, I just don't understand the romanticization of manned space flight. Not that we shouldn't put effort into it, but not to the detriment of a few things that I would consider to be far more pressing (health and energy issues, off the top of my head).
posted by bardic at 12:35 AM on December 24, 2008


Oliver Morton's NYT op-ed articulates a connection between the pressing needs bardic mentions and the faltering vision orthogonality bemoans. It's worth reading just for its composition, but its arguments seem sound to me, as well. The picture of the Earth rising, seen from the Moon, tells us a story about ourselves. It's one of the best stories.
posted by cgc373 at 1:28 AM on December 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Poor Lovell went to the moon twice but didn't get to set foot on the surface.
posted by C17H19NO3 at 1:30 AM on December 24, 2008


Uh, I don't think anyone has ever left earth's orbit

If you went to the darkest part of night during the deepest part of winter and jumped up in the air wouldn't you be outside the earths orbit, being further away from the sun than the earth would ever be?
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:42 AM on December 24, 2008


StickyCarpet, the Earth actually is closest to the Sun during the winter months.
posted by cgc373 at 1:50 AM on December 24, 2008


What's the point of going back to the moon?

Mounting telescopes almost free of atmospheric disturbance parked in Earth's blind spot.
Cheap compared to satellites, what with their orbital decay and bad hygiene and such.
posted by hypersloth at 1:55 AM on December 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


We may not fund basic science as much as people would like, but we certainly fund a lot of basic science research. And how was the Moon shot basic science funding? Planting the flag and making an awesome golf shot hardly seem like sceintific research. Sure we got a few rock sampless, but at what cost? Hubble has yeilded a lot more science at signifigantly lower cost than the moon shot.

So were Columbus's and Magellen's.
posted by humanfont at 1:58 AM on December 24, 2008


So were Columbus's and Magellen's.
Yes but they found a profitable reason to go back. Columbus
posted by humanfont at 1:59 AM on December 24, 2008


Yes but they found a profitable reason to go back. Columbus

Cliffhangers are
posted by C17H19NO3 at 2:03 AM on December 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Planting the flag and making an awesome golf shot hardly seem like sceintific research.

How about soil mechanics, meteoroids, seismic, heat flow, lunar ranging, magnetic fields, and solar wind experiments?
posted by C17H19NO3 at 2:06 AM on December 24, 2008


> Uh, I don't think anyone has ever left earth's orbit, and the russians were the first ones in space.

The original post said "earth orbit", not "earth's orbit"--i.e., the Apollo 8 crew were the first humans to go fast enough to break away from orbiting the earth. Or if you want to get all Wikipedia about it:
Apollo 8 was the first manned voyage to achieve a velocity sufficient to allow escape from the gravitational field of planet Earth; the first to enter the gravitational field of another celestial body; the first to escape from the gravitational field of another celestial body; and the first manned voyage to return to planet Earth from another celestial body.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 2:17 AM on December 24, 2008


Well, crap. That's what I get for taking forever to post--I'm redundant. =P
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 2:19 AM on December 24, 2008


Yeah, yeah, Christmas message, got it.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:24 AM on December 24, 2008


Let's give the Apollo 8 credit for doing what we've all dreamed of; blowing this clambake as fast as possible.
posted by twoleftfeet at 2:26 AM on December 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


What's the point in going back to the moon?

There's a reason to go to the moon, but I doubt you're going to like it.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:01 AM on December 24, 2008 [13 favorites]


Oh, that link goes to a PDF.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:12 AM on December 24, 2008


Oh, that link goes to a PDF.

I knew I wasn't going to like it!
posted by kid ichorous at 3:18 AM on December 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Here I sit with NASA SP-246 Lunar Photographs From Apollos 8, 10, and 11... somebody left it in the laundry room as trash.
posted by zengargoyle at 3:26 AM on December 24, 2008


Brandon Blatcher, your PDF link kicks ass. Where'd you find it?
posted by cgc373 at 3:37 AM on December 24, 2008


StickyCarpet, the Earth actually is closest to the Sun during the winter months.

Uh-oh, anti-antipodeanism rears its ugly head again.
posted by TedW at 3:48 AM on December 24, 2008


"How about soil mechanics, meteoroids, seismic, heat flow, lunar ranging, magnetic fields, and solar wind experiments?"

None of which require a manned expedition.

Sending people into space and (usually) getting them back alive only proves we can send people and (hopefully) get them back alive.
posted by bardic at 3:48 AM on December 24, 2008


What's the point of going back to the moon?

When rephrased as a question from 1968, this becomes easy to answer. Science, technology, information and inspiration.

People need to leave Earth. We need to think of the Solar System or even the Universe, not just the Earth, as our home.
posted by DU at 4:43 AM on December 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Uh, I don't think anyone has ever left earth's orbit...

If you are orbiting Earth and the Earth disappears, you fly off in a straight line. If you are orbiting the Moon and the Earth disappears, you continue orbiting the Moon.
posted by DU at 4:53 AM on December 24, 2008


If you are orbiting Earth and the Earth disappears, you fly off in a straight line. If you are orbiting the Moon and the Earth disappears, you continue orbiting the Moon.

... which will fly off in a straight line ...
posted by woodblock100 at 5:00 AM on December 24, 2008


None of which require a manned expedition.

Exactly. The only reason to send people to the Moon is to send people to the moon. That is, to put human beings where we could study the effects of Moon (or orbital) life on us, perhaps in anticipation of travel deeper into space, and where a seed packet of us would be relatively safe if the Earth became uninhabitable. These are two tasks you can't accomplish remotely and that are probably worth doing. But don't send people just to pick up rocks and fly back.
posted by pracowity at 5:13 AM on December 24, 2008


Proof that Apollo 12 could have left Earth orbit is that their fourth stage booster did -- only to come back. I love this animation, watch to the end when Luna picks up J002E3 and heaves it right back out of the Earth-Moon system to wander for a few more decades in Solar orbit.
posted by localroger at 5:23 AM on December 24, 2008 [4 favorites]


What's that L1 that bends the orbit right at the beginning? Not a Lagrange point, despite the name...? Wait, it bends the orbit in the other direction at the end. So maybe it is some kind of fictitious gravitational thing?
posted by DU at 5:32 AM on December 24, 2008


If I'd taken a moment to Google, I would have confirmed that it is indeed a Lagrange point. That was really weird.
posted by DU at 5:33 AM on December 24, 2008


DU, part of the confusion is that L1 in the animation is the Earth-SUN L1, and we usually think of Earth's L-points in terms of the Earth-MOON system.
posted by localroger at 5:36 AM on December 24, 2008


Uh-oh, anti-antipodeanism rears its ugly head again.

Oops. Yep, TedW got me. Earth is closest to the Sun in January, whether it's winter or summer where you are.
posted by cgc373 at 5:43 AM on December 24, 2008


My Apollo 8 memory: I was five years old and completely in love with anything having to do with outer space. That Christmas was the one year that my Uncle Pete (whose name was really Walter, but that's another story) and his family came to stay with us. My cousin Sheryl, who was nine months older than me, and I were as geared up as two little kids on Christmas Eve can possibly be, but the topper of all toppers was when the astronauts radioed Houston to inform every little kid in America that they had just seen Santa Claus circling the Earth.

I was savvy enough even as a little guy to want to turn on the TV to see if Walter Cronkite had any visual confirmation of the sleigh, but no such luck. All the grownups were busy being interested in the Bible stuff.
posted by briank at 6:04 AM on December 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yes but they found a profitable reason to go back.

And in that one statement we can find everything that has eliminated any real sense of adventure or purpose in our spirits.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:14 AM on December 24, 2008


and our foremost self-appointed moralist has a million-dollar gambling problem.

Is that what Charles Barkley's been doing these days?
posted by inigo2 at 6:15 AM on December 24, 2008


can the majority of Americans name a single scientist?

I assume you mean a single LIVING scientist. Stephen Hawking.
posted by DU at 6:18 AM on December 24, 2008


Oh, don't be so discouraged, orthogonality.
posted by Corduroy at 6:29 AM on December 24, 2008


<>>

... which will fly off in a straight line ...


That would be a cool premise for a TV show.

When I think of the moon landings, I think of the bags of trash that the Apollo astronauts left behind. Long after every trace of man has been scoured off the earth, that trash will remain preserved in the lunar vacuum - the ultimate monument to what we stood for.

Happy holidays.
posted by Joe Beese at 7:00 AM on December 24, 2008


I just don't understand the romanticization of manned space flight. Not that we shouldn't put effort into it, but not to the detriment of a few things that I would consider to be far more pressing (health and energy issues, off the top of my head).

I think part of the problem is your presumption that our manned space flight missions occurred "to the detriment" of curing Cancer/AIDS or inventing Mr. Fusion.

Here's a quote from The West Wing that says it better than I could:

Sam Seaborn: There are lots of hungry people in the world, Mall, and none of them are hungry because we went to the moon. None of them are colder and certainly none of them are dumber because we went to the moon.
Mallory O'Brian: And we went to the moon. Do we really have to go to Mars?
Sam Seaborn: Yes.
Mallory O'Brian: Why?
Sam Seaborn: Because it's next. Because we came out of the cave, and we looked over the hill and we saw fire; and we crossed the ocean and we pioneered the west, and we took to the sky. The history of man is on a timeline of explorations and this is What's next.


Now, maybe you think I'm silly or starry-eyed... but I'm just not the type who thinks we should have stayed in and cleaned up the cave before going to see what's out there.
posted by Fleebnork at 7:03 AM on December 24, 2008 [8 favorites]


If we go back, the program might be privately funded. To help generate revenue for the project, the rights for a live TV broadcast could be sold for millions, if not billions. But such an Entertainment Event would have to be packaged and sold, with a strong subtext of overcoming risk and danger. You would need a killer soundtrack, perhaps including a reprise of Kenny Loggins' song Danger Zone. This would help tie in the strong "retro" vibe the mission would take on.

You would need a consummate professional in the lead role, I mean mission controller, and what better leading man could we pick than Tom Cruise. We all know he has the fighter pilot background.

The problem is, for anyone like myself actually old enough to remember these voyages having occurred in real time, there are interminable intermissions of nothingness, like a road trip through west Texas. It is in those golden moments where Tom can give us thoughtful readings from Dianetics.
posted by Tube at 7:11 AM on December 24, 2008 [3 favorites]


I think (hope) that our generation's space race will be the space elevator race. Rockets are a majestic, but clumsy way of escaping our Earth's grasp. A space elevator will be to the rest of the universe what steam trains were to the American interior in the 19th century.

Robotic exploration of space is clearly more cost effective in terms of science per buck than human exploration. We can send our mechanical offspring to the corners of the visible universe and learn all there is to know about the universe, but like looking at pictures of the Aurora Borealis or a Himalayan sunset, you haven't quite seen it until you've been there. It isn't a logical impulse, the desire to actually Be there, to put footprints where there weren't any before, but that doesn't distinguish it from most human enterprise. We are faced with a question nearly as important as, and perhaps inextricable from, "to be, or not to be" - it's "to go, or not to go".

Let's go.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 7:32 AM on December 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


We've thrown away a generation. 40 years ago we put men on the moon, and they'll all be dead before another man lands there. And that man will be Chinese.
Well, it would help if there was something to do there.

So were Columbus's and Magellen's. But fine, write off manned exploration, there are good arguments for that. But give us something to die for; right now we live for the next season's lineup on NBC in HDTV.

The Americas had gold, land, and tons of natural resources to bring back to Europe.
How about soil mechanics, meteoroids, seismic, heat flow, lunar ranging, magnetic fields, and solar wind experiments?
And that stuff can't be done by robots? We're sending a probe the size of a car to mars soon, and it will have a friggin' laser gun powerful enough to blow holes in rocks. Check out this video. The idea that we should send humans into space is a little idiotic. What do they add? Sure, they can think on their feet but they're limited to the tools that they have with them. And as far as sending people to mars, well, you've got to get them back as well. And you need to provide life support, food, water, etc for years and years. The arguments for human space travel may have made some sense 20 years ago -- that humans can fix problems if they come up. But they can't fix themselves, and they can't fix their life support systems if it takes longer then their lifespan without it (i.e. if their oxygen tank starts leaking, good luck with that)

They also require much more redundancy to keep them alive. With a probe, just send a bunch and if one or two fails, no big loss. You can't do that with people, obviously.
posted by delmoi at 7:43 AM on December 24, 2008


The Americas had gold, land, and tons of natural resources to bring back to Europe.

The Moon has vacuum, sunshine and access to the top of the gravity well. (Note to historians: Please don't judge me too harshly for missing the dozens of things that every school child can rattle off in your time.)
posted by DU at 7:55 AM on December 24, 2008 [3 favorites]


Apollo 8 was the first manned voyage to achieve a velocity sufficient to allow escape from the gravitational field of planet Earth; the first to enter the gravitational field of another celestial body; the first to escape from the gravitational field of another celestial body; and the first manned voyage to return to planet Earth from another celestial body.

They did not escape from Earth's gravitational field as evidenced by the big ball of rock that is itself orbiting the Earth that they flew around. When I jump into the air I am not momentarily ceasing to be affected by the Earth's gravitational pull even if I am moving away from the surface of the Earth.

At about 55 hours and 40 minutes into the flight, the crew of Apollo 8 became the first humans to enter the gravitational sphere of influence of another celestial body.

This part is also bullshit. Surfers in Maui are riding the effects of the moon's "gravitational sphere of influence" every time the tide comes in.
posted by Pollomacho at 8:13 AM on December 24, 2008


They did not escape from Earth's gravitational field...

Your quote didn't claim that they did.
posted by DU at 8:17 AM on December 24, 2008


I'm late to this, but in response to orthogonality, I've got few comments. First, I consider the invention (emergence?) of the internet in the last couple decades to be huge. Not many were predicting this back in the 70's. Second, my experience with engineering projects is that for long periods there is little externally perceptible progress followed by everything coming together rapidly (usually driven by a trade show). My guess is we're going to see some amazing things in the next few years. I can't wait to see what they are.
posted by cosmac at 8:19 AM on December 24, 2008


Pollomacho, scientists have precise definitions for these things and you are wrong on both counts.

Had Apollo 8 not arranged to be captured by the Moon, it would have gone into orbit around the Sun, and this was the case for most of its journey out -- and its fourth stage did in fact escape the Earth completely. At the moment they had more than escape velocity they had escaped Earth's gravitational field; they were still under its influence but without further action they would have been gone. That would not of course been a very satisfactory conclusion to the mission.

And at 55:40 they reached the point where, had they put on the brakes and gone into at-rest freefall, they would have fallen toward the Moon instead of the Earth. That cannot be said of surfers in Maui, even though both they and the Apollo astronauts were under the influence of both Earth and Luna's gravity.
posted by localroger at 8:22 AM on December 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Well, it would help if there was something to do there.

1/6 gravity + close enough to quickly send data back and forth= huge market for porn.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:42 AM on December 24, 2008 [5 favorites]


Orthogonality: Could I spark some hope with FIRST? I do not know if you have any connection, but you seem to be the prime candidate to be a part of it.

It is quite likely that their existence is part of the reason why I am a CS major today... and an overall science nut. And sure, it has its flaws like other orgs, but overall, I love it, and still love it today.

Also: VNV Nation's Genesis... have a listen.
posted by JoeXIII007 at 8:43 AM on December 24, 2008


With a probe, just send a bunch and if one or two fails, no big loss. You can't do that with people, obviously.
I guess you haven't seen The Wages of Fear.
posted by binturong at 9:05 AM on December 24, 2008


where a seed packet of us would be relatively safe if the Earth became uninhabitable.

This always seemed the most ridiculous assertion. How many people have to be in the seed packet to be viable? It mostly depends on where you settle, but if you take any of the current close options (Mars, the Moon, etc) the technology required to sustain human life requires a seed packet larger than the likey carrying capacity of the location.

How do you keep enough trained people and create a manufacturing base large enough to sustain all the equipment? Consider all the components that go into your laptop and the millions of people required to move raw materials through the supply chain into final assembly. Now consider moving that whole process to another planet.

The early American colonies lost tons of money and required sustained resupply for generations before they ever became profitable. They had a local labor force, and habitable environment as a starting point.
posted by humanfont at 9:51 AM on December 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Where'd you find it?

Can't remember, dammit. Possibly daringfireball or 37signals, back on Dec 5th. Yet another in a long line of thoughtful and interesting posts never made. Best use of slideshow I've seen though.

I've always viewed the space program as sadly neglected stepchild of american taxpayer dollars. I'd much rather see our defense budget slashed and see a big chunk directed towards exploring space, as it would a motivating boost for the country, providing unified, peaceful direction and jobs.

But no, we need another goddamn fighter/tank whatever. Not that defense isn't extremely important, but if that's what America is spending most of its money, that's just fucking sick.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:07 AM on December 24, 2008


I tear up every time I hear or read those words. Because, despite all the things that have happened, it is a good Earth.
posted by tommasz at 10:19 AM on December 24, 2008


The early American colonies lost tons of money and required sustained resupply for generations before they ever became profitable. They had a local labor force, and habitable environment as a starting point.

Does a colony have to be profitable to survive? And I bet they could have lived without resupplies if they'd been forced to. I'm aware that some colonies keeled over, but I'm also aware that you don't know what you can do, or do without, until you try.

In any case, your comment doesn't make me think that space colonies are useless as havens in case of catastrophe. It makes me nervous that we haven't already started one. If we need "generations" before it is self-sustaining, all the more reason to start early.
posted by DU at 11:53 AM on December 24, 2008


We had real wizards once, but we decided not to fund them. Instead we've become materialistic gold-grubbing dwarves, digging into our mothers' basements, ignorant of the math and science that produce the gee-whiz graphics that hypnotize us.

We have 50-inch TVs, but our public education system is falling apart. We have SUVs and melamine tainted milk, but we don't have a sane reliable health system.

Despite all this, we tremble on the edge of break-throughs, but never see through the funding that could make those break-throughs happen. We celebrate what we did 20, 40, 60 years ago, but what will our grandchildren celebrate? Our decaying collection of Britney Spears CDs and American Idol DVDs? We celebrate our materialism, but we don't respect or value the science and technology that makes it possible.

We've thrown away a generation. 40 years ago we put men on the moon, and they'll all be dead before another man lands there. And that man will be Chinese.

What have we done? What is to be done, now? I no longer look at the Moon anymore and feel amazement: "once we landed there, in the Sea of Tranquility, Americans named Armstrong and Aldrin and finally Cernan". I don't look at the Moon anymore.
posted by orthogonality at 11:52 PM on December 23


This was written by George Carlin. His wife just died.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 12:42 PM on December 24, 2008


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
'Cause 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 to the moon.
Because the space race is over,
And I can't help but think
That we're all just going nowhere ...
(Previously.)
posted by eritain at 3:40 PM on December 24, 2008


In any case, your comment doesn't make me think that space colonies are useless as havens in case of catastrophe. It makes me nervous that we haven't already started one. If we need "generations" before it is self-sustaining, all the more reason to start early.

There are two problems with your logic. We could be too early like the vikings in North America. The vikings got started early in the European settlement of North America, but their technology wasn't reliable enough to support the colonies and return enough trade to make it sustainable or handle an unexpected change in the climate. Given the large number of systems and technology breakthroughs required for cost effective settlement we can't just get started.

The second problem is the carrying capacity of the target bodies. Mars and the Moon are the closest locations, but have limited supplies of air and water. Furthermore survival is only possible using a lot of technology. In order for the colony to work, it will need to have a large number of highly educated individuals supporting a diverse set of skills. There will need to be enough population growth to sustain the skills required for civilization and enough teachers to transmit the skills from generation to generation. This means millions of people. I am skeptical that there is enough air and water to sustain a population that size. If this is the case then the colonies on Mars and the Moon cannot act as safe havens of humanity.
posted by humanfont at 4:00 PM on December 24, 2008


"I think part of the problem is your presumption that our manned space flight missions occurred "to the detriment" of curing Cancer/AIDS or inventing Mr. Fusion."

Because NASA clearly has unlimited resources and gets to do whatever it wants, whenever it wants.

To me it's a simple issue of pragmatism. Given limited resources to explore space and given the current state of propulsion and life support technologies, do we a) re-boot our little propaganda runs to a dead rock or b) continue to fund robotic exploration that has told us immensely more about the universe than all of our manned expeditions combined?

And someone mentioned the space elevator -- now there's a project worth getting kids and young science student excited about.
posted by bardic at 6:45 PM on December 24, 2008


I doubt a robot would have had the presence of mind to take that 'Earthrise" picture that was so paradigm-disrupting. i too was 5 when this happened, remember it somewhat, and was (and still am) a big Apollo and space exploration fan.

since then we've gotten really good at killing foreigners. I would love to see half the DOD budget go to peaceful space exploration. I'll go. I understand the risks. I'll go on a one-way trip to mars. I'll go even if there's a chance (risk! OMG) of ending up in a petty ball of flame.

Watch any of the good documentaries about Apollo ("For All Mankind" and "Magnificent Desolation" in particular) and listen to what these rational, scientific fighter jocks say about being out in space and seeing the infinite void. Truly awe-inspiring.

I think the mindset needed to do such bold things died with the younger Kennedy. I see some optimism these days with Obama's victory. I hope he can inspire some greatness in us. It sure has been lacking.
posted by KenManiac at 8:16 PM on December 24, 2008


This was written by George Carlin. His wife just died.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 12:42 PM on December 24


Are you saying that orthogonality plagiarized his comment? Because all I can find online is this, which, while similar in sentiment, is not the same at all. And as to your comment about Carlin's wife's death, his first wife died in 1997, and his second is still alive by all accounts. Color me confused.
posted by theroadahead at 8:49 PM on December 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


So were Columbus's and Magellen's. But fine, write off manned exploration, there are good arguments for that. But give us something to die for; right now we live for the next season's lineup on NBC in HDTV.

We've turned into a nation of paper-shufflers and technicians. Our "public intellectuals" are Cornell West (a shill for Al Sharpton) and Charles Krauthammer (a shill for Israel) and our foremost self-appointed moralist has a million-dollar gambling problem. In the 1950s, people at least knew Einstein's name -- can the majority of Americans name a single scientist?

We've become a joke of a country, our aspirations centered on bigger cookie-cutter McMansions, our idea of freedom limited to sneaking a bottle of water past the Kafka-esque security theater our airports have become, our morality consists of tortured arguments justify torture, our ideal of achievement is getting rich by swindling our fellow men, our ideal of the holy mega-chuches and Prosperity Gospel. We prey for dollars and pray for dollars, most of it borrowed from the Chinese.

Does "The United States of America" mean anything, does it stand for anything, anymore? What do we aspire to, anymore?
posted by nitroy2k at 5:38 AM on December 25, 2008


Are you saying that orthogonality plagiarized his comment? Because all I can find online is this, which, while similar in sentiment, is not the same at all. And as to your comment about Carlin's wife's death, his first wife died in 1997, and his second is still alive by all accounts. Color me confused.
posted by theroadahead at 8:49 PM on December 24


The cadence and style of orthogonality's comment was very similar to some dumb email forward usually (incorrectly) attributed to Carlin, with the follow-up that his wife had died. It wasn't an accusation of plagiarism.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 5:59 AM on December 25, 2008


I doubt a robot would have had the presence of mind to take that 'Earthrise" picture that was so paradigm-disrupting. i too was 5 when this happened, remember it somewhat, and was (and still am) a big Apollo and space exploration fan.

What? Have you seen the pictures taken by space probes to mars, Jupiter, Uranus, etc? Many are pretty nice. You can program a robot to take whatever picture you want, and since earth was in the line of site (obviously), you could control the camera in nearly real time to get that shot.

It isn't like no one had suggested that we take a picture of the whole planet earlier.
posted by delmoi at 1:14 AM on December 26, 2008


No matter how fucked up Earth becomes, it will never be as inhospitable as the rest of space*, so exploring space to ensure the survival of humanity is silly*. But I still say we should establish a space colony, because if we don't, were a bunch of scaredy cats. Heavens to Betsy folks, the rest of the universe is out there! It's been out there for a hell of a long time, with just the boring old laws of physics mushing it around. Well, it's time we went out there and taught the universe a lesson in biology!

Rah! Rah! Go regions of matter exhibiting emergent behavior we call human beings!

*within the Sun's current stage in stellar evolution
posted by Salvor Hardin at 8:42 PM on December 26, 2008


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