Was the moon landing really a giant step for mankind?

One of the most famous quotes in modern history comes from what Neil Armstrong said in 1969 when he was the first person to step onto the moon’s surface – “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”

(Armstrong claims he said or meant to say “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind”, which makes more sense as ‘for man’ and ‘for mankind’ could mean much the same thing).

Was it really a giant step for mankind? The space race was a big achievement for sure and resulted in some accelerated technological advances, but is mankind really better off for the moon landing?

There were more men stepping onto the moon up until 1972, but in the 48 years since then no one has tried to set foot there again, so walking on the moon doesn’t seem to have been a particularly important thing to do apart from the fact of being there and collecting a few rocks.

I really don’t know if it was a giant step or not. It was very costly getting there and back again, that money could have been spent on something far more beneficial back here on Earth.

Some big achievements end up not being beneficial.

When Tensing Norgay and Ed Hillary stepped onto the top of सगरमाथा/ཇོ་མོ་གླང་མ/珠穆朗玛 (named Mount Everest by foreigners) it was a big deal for them, for their British expedition and for mountaineering. And the waning British Empire claimed some pride and glory.

But now the highest mountain in the world attracts hordes of people trudge up well worn tracks in the snow using prefixed ropes and ladders to claim some personal glory – often having to wait in long queues for their turn – perhaps queues are something the British introduced. In recent years hundreds of people have summitted, with a record 891 last year. I guess there has been some good for the Nepalese economy and tourism

But the human race gains next nothing out of Norgay’s and Hillary’s achievement.

And what’s the point of stepping on the moon when there are still a lot of things that need to be sorted out on Earth?

 

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28 Comments

  1. Griff.

     /  20th April 2020

    Somewhere in Kenya circa 200,000 BCE
    Whats the point in climbing down from this tree and going out on the savanna ?

    Reply
  2. NOEL

     /  20th April 2020

    I was in Vietnam when an American beside me was reading of the “achievement” of the landing.
    My response was the money could have been better spent on the mess down here on earth..

    My mother had died weeks earlier and all the misery around me became personal.

    But looking back, those guys did take a big risk to prove it could be done.

    Reply
  3. Alan Wilkinson

     /  20th April 2020

    Hilary and his family did a lot of good work in Nepal subsequently. I don’t think you can say their achievement had no benefit in goodwill and philanthropy.

    Reply
  4. Gezza

     /  20th April 2020

    When you consider it was largely spurred by the Soviet Union surprising the US with the number of firsts & successes in their space progarm and the IS’s determination to beat them with an outstanding achievement they never matched, it does sometimes look like simeyhing that cost a pile of money that could’ve been better spent.

    But I admire everything about those landings & the bravery & skill & dedication of all those who participated to get them there and back ti earth safely.

    There’s just something about the human spirit in some people being strong enuf to make them achieve prodigious feats in the face of a multitude of unknowns and difficulties. It was the embodiment of what a can do attitude means & I find that inspiring & yet another example for others to emulate in other areas of human endeavour.

    Reply
  5. Alan Wilkinson

     /  20th April 2020

    As to the moon landing, best ask what it has meant for science. And it probably gave us the incredible Space Odyssey of Voyager still in progress:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voyager_1

    The consequences of scientific progress are often unknowable.

    Reply
  6. duperez

     /  20th April 2020

    Trying to get to the moon, heading out on the savanna, trying to climb Everest, thinking about sailing out over the horizon being valued by what else could have been done with the money and effort?
    The value of dreaming and striving is inestimable.

    Reply
  7. Tom Hunter

     /  20th April 2020

    I was surprised to see this here at this time, given that the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing was almost a year ago now, although like everyone else I’m sick to death of having nothing except the damned coronavirus to talk about so… yay!

    But your response reminds me of the similarly dour, dismissive attitude of Listener writer Gordon Campbell in 1989 during the 30th anniversary.

    I’ll put up this link to a piece I wrote on No Minister last year, One Small Step, that I think covers your comments, and here are three quotes from it.

    First in terms of the argument that the money could have been better spent. The program cost (in today’s money) some $US 150 billion. That is a lot, but even by the time the explorations finished in 1973 the US has spent hundreds of billions in its so-called War On Poverty and with standard welfare programs, and has spent trillions since. The Apollo program is not even an accounting error in that context.

    Secondly, is all human space exploration a waste of money? Was the Space Shuttle a waste of money, or the ISS now? Well let me put it this way:

    When the Shuttle program itself ended in 2011 the NASA Administrator set a team of accountants to work up the lifetime cost, adjusting for inflation. They found that each Shuttle flight ended up costing more than each Apollo flight. In other words, rather than flopping around in LEO for three decades, the USA could have continued to send two teams to explore the moon each year, every year, from 1973 to 2003, for less money. Even that ignores the possibilities that would have been enabled by the ever-reducing costs of production line Saturn V’s. The Russians still use fifty year old designs for their rockets.

    You would have fitted in well with this guy:

    Senators and House members who had long opposed what they saw as a waste of money, got their revenge. One member, the execrably small-minded Wisconsin Senator William Proxmire, was so fanatical that he ensured there was a budget line item to destroy all the jigs and jobbing tools needed to build more Saturn V’s, just to be sure.

    And I’ll finish with this:

    what’s held to be the legacy of Apollo changes with time, swinging back and forth between the euphoria of the day, to the bitter cynicism of the 1970’s, to a measure of pride in the 1980’s and 90’s (witness the success of the movie Apollo 13 in 1995) to the #Woke bullshit of the New York Time’s reflections now, not to mention their peddling of news ripped fresh from the pages of 1960’s Pravda. Even the Soviets had more grace in the moment.

    But I think that the more time that passes the better it will look. America was very proud of what it did and mostly still is. It was an astonishing achievement that was probably fifty years ahead of its time. No other nation could have done it: marshalling the wealth and invention generated by its sprawling free enterprise system, with private companies giving their all, far beyond any profit motive, and an open, democratic, meritocratic system of government that self-corrected for mistakes throughout every level of the effort.

    And contrary to The Listener’s sniffy pronouncement during the 30th anniversary, it was far more than just a “merely technical” achievement. Some writers and historians have opined that a thousand years from now, it may be the only thing remembered from our age. Moreover, as the Apollo astronauts themselves noted on their post-mission global publicity tours, everywhere they went they encountered people who congratulated them, thanked them, and said “We did it”.

    The astronauts knew what they meant: all of humanity. There can be no finer legacy.

    Reply
  8. Tom Hunter

     /  20th April 2020

    Oh – and this is a BBC link well worth listening to: 13 Minutes to the Moon.

    Reply
  9. Blazer

     /  20th April 2020

    ‘ No other nation could have done it: marshalling the wealth and invention generated by its sprawling free enterprise system, with private companies giving their all, far beyond any profit motive’

    really!~!

    Reply
    • Griff.

       /  20th April 2020

      The USA would not have done it if they were not trying to put one up those pesky commies in Russia.

      Toms partisan ranting and USA exceptionalism gets old very quickly.

      Technology
      The world’s first portable computer and mouse were created for space exploration and adapted for the commercial markets. Even the wireless headsets we use today originate from NASA creating hands-free equipment for astronauts and pilots. One of the classic examples is NASA’s creation of the ball-point pen for writing in space. However, the Soviet Union found a cost-effective method of using a pencil.

      Reply
      • Pink David

         /  20th April 2020

        “However, the Soviet Union found a cost-effective method of using a pencil.”

        It was the pencil that caused N1 to explode on the pad.

        Reply
      • Duker

         /  20th April 2020

        “One of the classic examples is NASA’s creation of the ball-point pen”
        It was Lazlo Biro , an hungarian living in Argentina in the 1940s who developed the ball point pen.
        The computer mouse wasnt anything to do with space but for for the Xerox Alto Computer in 1973
        https://www.computerhope.com/issues/ch001083.htm
        The first portable computer ?
        https://www.businessinsider.com.au/the-amazing-rise-and-fall-of-the-first-portable-computer-2011-4?r=US&IR=T
        Adam Osborne in 1981, he was a journalist. Nasa didnt really need portable computers for inside spacecraft, they would be built in

        Reply
      • You beat me to it with the Biro correction. I didn’t know the dates of the other two.

        Reply
        • Duker

           /  20th April 2020

          Yes . I thought everyone knew about the ‘Biro’. The French pen magnate had a factory in NZ – Bic.. I think there was a special version made for Nasa and that US manufacturer built its marketing around that.
          I knew about the mouse , I was using computers before it became common usage , it was like using a teleprinter but with the golfball …remember them

          Things developed for Nasa were more prosaic …WD-40/CRC.. but perhaps not

          Reply
  10. Tom Hunter

     /  20th April 2020

    One of the classic examples is NASA’s creation of the ball-point pen for writing in space. However, the Soviet Union found a cost-effective method of using a pencil.

    A myth, as explained by Scientific American years ago. Note the sub-heading:

    The problem of weightless writing was not solved by either Soviet central planning or good old American sub-contracting, but by a private investor and a good idea

    Reply
  11. Tom Hunter

     /  20th April 2020

    … far beyond any profit motive
    really!~!

    Yes, Blazer. I realise that your ideological beliefs prevent you from thinking that US companies could be patriotic even as they made a buck, but I’ve met a few of the old guys who worked both on the shopfloor and in the management of outfitts like Grumman, who built the LM, and North American, who built the CSM, and all of them said they would never have poured in so much effort just for a dollar. They certainly did not for any other profit-making, aerospace project those companies undertook. The astronauts who toured the factories observed the same spirit.

    And because I have to always add caveats to this stuff: I’m well aware of businesspeople who will screw the system of free enterprise and free(ish) markets in a heartbeat just to make a buck. It’s a paradox of the system but more government typically just makes it worse and it’s only barely acceptable when the government is trying to do something like win a war or go to the Moon.

    Reply
    • Blazer

       /  20th April 2020

      yes the latter more success than the former….inspired Star Trek and Lost In Space..and put to bed the belief that the moon was made of …Green Cheese.

      Reply
    • Duker

       /  20th April 2020

      “It’s a paradox of the system but more government typically just makes it worse”

      So is that why Steve Joyce , using the taxpayers money bought into Chorus for $940 mill, PLUS gave them soft loans to build the fibre network to be repaid from income , PLUS provided the home connection from the street line FREE
      Clearly made it so much worse.

      The history of major NZ private companies shows they are quite capable of stuffing up at a grand level as well. Fletchers ..say no more. Telecom with its XT network, Warehouse with both its foray into Australia and into supermarket shopping here.
      Telecom had a huge sucess …with selling off its Yellow Pages for ‘a $billion’ just before the GFC and the end phone books.

      The reality is ideology blinds to government success and corporate failure. Common with right wing ideologues

      Reply
      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  20th April 2020

        Don’t be silly. Corporate failure is why capitalism works. Government success is why socialism doesn’t.

        Reply
        • Duker

           /  20th April 2020

          There are plenty of mixed socialist- capitalist systems. The sucessful ones . The purely capitalist are a mess
          The Chinese built their system on communism with capitalist tendencies , not the other way round.
          Even the US agriculture system relies on socialist support , from insurance subsidies to outright government grants and everything in between

          Why does Fibre broadband rely on socialism ?

          Reply
          • Alan Wilkinson

             /  20th April 2020

            Because it is uneconomic and will soon be obsoleted by 5G.

            Reply
            • Duker

               /  20th April 2020

              You know nothing about 5G …but are sucked in by the hype.

        • Blazer

           /  20th April 2020

          ‘ Corporate failure is why capitalism works. Government success is why socialism doesn’t.’

          don’t forget the GOLDEN RULE of Capitalism….’privatise the profits…socialise the losses’.

          Reply

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