Today, of course, is the fiftieth anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon–“one giant leap for mankind,” to be sure. It was a great accomplishment and deserves to be remembered.
It’s easy to forget, however, that at the time there were many–especially on the left–who believed that the whole enterprise was a mistake, that the money we spent to put Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin (and of course, Michael Collins, commemorated the following year by Jethro Tull in their album Benefit) would have been better spent on feeding the poor and rectifying social injustices.
And in a sense the years that followed this achievement were the time when real science died in this country. As I noted earlier this year:
But by the time Armstrong and Aldrin set foot on the moon, the mood had changed. The 1960’s were a decidedly Luddite time; technology was blamed for despoiling the environment and creating the “few minutes to midnight” atmosphere of the Cold War. Those who plied their trade in technology were “nerds.” The space program collapsed and the aerospace industry went with it. A new generation turned away from technology to more “relevant” (and easier way up) professions such as law and finance. Instead of landing on Mars in 1986, we were in angst (something we’ve gotten good at) over the explosion of the Challenger.
The space program had many technological spinoffs that enhanced life here on earth. But when we have the same old “zero-sum” mentality about this, we’ll end up getting nowhere, and in the long run shortchanging those we profess to help.
And where was I when the first step was taken? In Palm Beach, of course. Behind the balcony of our house (right) was my brother’s room, where we witnessed history on his black and white television.