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.
Our home in Palm Beach. It was located on the old “Dodge Estate,” one of the last of the large estates to be broken up (Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago is an example of one that is still intact.) Built in the late 1950’s, it survived the hurricanes that were reasonably frequent during the years we lived in Palm Beach (we experienced two the first summer we lived there.) All of the windows were fitted with shutters (as shown here) or had a metal shield that could be fitted for a blow. This obviated the need to strip forests for plywood every time a hurricane arrived. Note also the ficus hedge running along the street. Using a hedge to both close in the yard and to obscure the view of the property (they’re generally higher now than they were then) is fairly common in Palm Beach. After living with this, being forced into the “open yard” mould so common in the U.S. (especially in the South) just doesn’t quite cut it.
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.