Moondreams, engineers and bureaucracies
We're not going back (very) soon
Outstanding article and, sadly, all too accurate in your assessment of current conditions. We have lost our faith in ourselves and become scared children who believe we "can't" achieve a great objective anymore. Mediocrity and settling for safety is the name of the game today. Risk aversion, butt-covering, and personal advancement at any cost to anyone else, these are all hallmarks of present culture. I have already apologized to my son, telling him that the wold he inherits is poorer in wealth and, more importantly, spirit than the one I received from my parents. Our generation dreamed big dreams, just as our parents did. Our children dream of winning a video game. And it's our fault. "Don't risk that, you'll get hurt, the world is dangerous, stay inside, don't talk to strangers," etc. We've raised a generation that sees themselves as victims, not active doers. "I can't, it's too hard, why do I have to do that?" Now we expect government to take care of us cradle to grave. We used to be self-reliant and proud of it. No more. I thought I'd be able to go to the moon in my lifetime. Now I don't believe anyone will go to the moon in my lifetime. No one. We don't have the will. That's the real story, and it's a tragic one. We've thrown it all away.
An interesting and thought-provoking article. Thank you. I do think the "perceived superiority" of private enterprise in space ventures is a tad overblown. The Mercury capsule that carried Virgil Grissom into orbit has been recovered from its watery resting place of many years and is on display at Kennedy Space Center (or was, I haven't checked for its current status). Built by McDonnel Aircraft (#11 of 20 according to Wikipedia), one of the striking things about the display was the crushed up "dixie" coffee cup some asshat had tossed behind one of the spacecraft's consoles before bolting it shut.
And let's not forget that the error that blew the living shirt out of Apollo 13 was made in a factory, not in a Government-mandated meeting of pointy-haired idiots. But I agree that modern-style effing about won't get us to the moon. The will to do it rather than make TV shows about doing it just isn't in the nation any more. Speaking of Apollo 13 (as I was yesterday with colleagues), nothing illustrates the differences between today's industry and that of the sixties than the response to that disaster. That the three men aboard could rescue themselves using only what had been put into the spit-and-bailing-wire contraption they were riding in is a testament not only to their endurance but to the innovative thinking and generally high levels of education and training of the ground control crews. Truly, as is said in Hank's movie by Ed Harris, it was NASA's, and by extension, America's finest hour. How the mighty have fallen, which I think is where you came in.
Thanks again for the article.
I very much enjoyed your Moon article. I had the pleasure of talking with Dave MacDonald of Kodak many years ago (over a flight of single-malts) about his involvement with Gemini and Apollo. I couldn’t believe his description of the technology behind telemetry communications. It was astounding to realize how much was accomplished through clever integration of simple technologies.
I was right with you until your last paragraph. There you seemed to be equating concern about “carbon footprint” with an impoverishment of human achievement. Yet some of the most amazing technological innovation is happening today directly in response to our newfound awareness of our impact on our environment. Isn’t building a low-impact car like designing a LEM? You want speed, range, size, safety, low-emissions, recyclability. Achieving a maximal blend of all those goals requires innovation and rigor. The same can be said for power generation, transmission, and storage. I think your comments about “what went right” are very apropos. Unavoidably politics must enter into setting the goal, as it did for Apollo, but the trick is then to get out of the way. One hopes that in the execution of green initiatives bureaucracy is not allowed to stifle innovation.
As an engineer, I cannot but agree with your sentiments, Andrew.
Give the clever guys something to do and enough resources to do it, and keep away the politicians, "meetings", and committees, and it'll all get done.
I thoroughly enjoyed your writing in “The Register, To the Moon - with extreme engineering”. It almost brought a tear to my eye. I read while remembering being five years old watching Apollo on our black and white TV. Andrew, NASA is why I got into I.T. in the first place. The last paragraph really hit home, I too wonder if we as a people could pull off another Apollo today. Thank you! Robert Schultz Orlando, FL USA.
Thanks for the mail!
Finally, in case you're curious, the quiz contestant pictured on Page 1 of this article answered the question "What orbits the earth?" incorrectly. ®