We asked several scientists, technologists, and SF writers for their reflections on the 40th anniversary of the 1969 moonwalk. Here are the results.
Peter Diamandis is the founder and chairman of X Prize Foundation, which founded Ansari X PRIZE, a competition for private sector manned spaceflight. His response was transcribed for this poll by his permission from a video message recorded for the anniversary.
So, here we are. It’s the 40th anniversary of Apollo, and everybody is celebrating and looking backwards. And for me, it’s kind of a sad time. Forty years after having landed on the moon, we are still eight years away… nine years away.
I mean, think about it. 1961 — we had never even flown a human into space, and President John F. Kennedy said, "We’re going to the moon by the end of the decade." And in eight and a half years, they made it happen, with computers no more powerful than that you have in your digital watch. So computers are a billion times faster today — probably more — and literally a million times smaller. And yet it’s taking so long.
The question is: how do we liberate the genius that we have on the planet to take us to the moon faster, more economically, and make it possible for all of us to go along with those missions? The Google Lunar X Prize is our answer to that. We have challenged teams from around the planet — we now have over 20 — that are going back to the moon with spacecraft that are, some of them, the size of a small refrigerator, some of them the size of your cell phone, and challenging the question, what does it take to go and explore the moon?
So follow these teams. They are risking their fortunes, their reputations, for something they passionately believe in, transforming how we go and explore the space frontier. We are thankful to these teams, we are thankful to Google, who put up the $30 million in prize money, and we’re thankful to you for supporting the work that we do here at the X Prize Foundation.
Randa Relich Milliron
Randa Relich Milliron is CEO/Cofounder of Interorbital Systems, a company that develops and manufactures low-cost, state-of-the-art manned and unmanned orbital launch vehicles.
The 40th Anniversary of the Moon Landing is a bittersweet event. No real progress has occurred toward the development of a Lunar Base, or even an Earth /Moon transportation system. Probably worst of all, and unfortunately typical of current trends, the men of genius who envisioned and executed the original program are being turned into ‘unpersons’ — particularly Wernher von Braun. It’s cool for Buzz and Neil to have set foot on the Moon first, but despite all their talents and skills, they were basically given a vehicle to fly. Who made those first rockets possible? What of the visionary builders and designers who weathered every possible sort of political storm in order to carry out their obsession of making manned space flight a reality? They worked in the trenches, actually inventing rocket science as we know it today — or should I say, what we remember of the lost, black art of that fiery science… Those engineers and scientists have been thrown into history’s trashcan; their efforts, if recalled at all, are relegated to stereotypical anecdotes, ghostly afterthoughts of the driven individualists who pulled energy from their very essence and breathed life into the rocket systems we still use today. Nearly seventy years after his highest achievement, let us remember von Braun and honor his greatest leap: sending the first man-made object — the V-2 — into space — the real first step in the monumental and heroic effort that eventually brought mankind to the Moon.
Chris Nakashima-Brown is a science fiction writer whose work has been called both avant-pop and cyberpunk.
The moon landing was the money shot of the twentieth century Zeitgeist, played out on the screen in our heads: the convergence of Nazi technology, American pulp, and Cold War geopolitics in the toolmaking hands and fevered imagination of the nomadic naked ape. It was also the crowning expression of our modern alienation, achieving literal orbit to look down on ourselves with camera eye — Buzz Aldrin’s journey into the empty bottom of the bottle the perfect articulation of our journey into inner space.
Digital Librarian, Timothy Leary Archives at http://www.timothylearyarchives.org
On this Moonwalk anniversary, I know that Dr. Leary would be proud. He loved space travel and what he called "Space Migration" — our destiny to spread out into the stars. As he put it in his "Space Migration" paper: "Our species, ready or not, like it or not, is ready to move off the planet. Right now, this is becoming history on the drawing boards of NASA, which is a highly conservative organization. Indeed, the hardware and peopleware aspects of space migration have been worked out by O’Neil and others at the NASA Ames summer studies in Mountain View, California, and by other aerospace groups. We are considering conservative, accepted science, rather than speculation." He then listed "twenty-four basic neurogenetic reasons why humanity is migrating from the womb planet." (Genetic Survival, Biological Survival, Ecological Survival, etc.)
Tim was also very good friends with Dr. Carl Sagan, and they braintrusted frequently — via snail mail, and in person, when Sagan visited him on several occasions while Tim was at Vacaville State Prison. During a series of letters between Sagan and Leary during the spring of 1974, Tim and Carl would often discuss pushing the boundaries of space and time via space travel. On this subject, a few quotes from these letters come to mind.
The first, from a letter dated February 19, 1974, Sagan says "On the basic requirements for interstellar exploration, I doubt if a manned expedition to Mars could be done within the next 25 years for less than $300 billion. Try really costing your spacecraft and see what it would cost. In fact, maybe the reason we haven’t been visited is that interstellar spaceflight, while technically possible, would beggar any planet which attempted it."
In another letter dated March 20, 1974, Sagan writes "I think it’s possible for a society only a century or two more advanced than we, but "out of sight" for us. Here I’m talking about relativistic interstellar spaceflight: that is, at speeds more than 99 percent the speed of light, so that the Lorentz time-dilation becomes important. I don’t know of any scheme — including Orion — which gets us up to relativistic velocities with any feasible technology of the immediate future. It’s a glorious dream — just a century or two too early."
On this 40th Anniversary of the Apollo Moon Landing, I bet both Tim and Carl would be somewhat impressed with NASA’s recent Moon-exploration accomplishments — its Clementine and Lunar Prospector missions, as well as its latest LCross and LRO (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter) endeavors. Happy 40th NASA!
Martine Rothblatt is responsible for launching several satellite communications companies, including the first nationwide vehicle location system (Geostar, 1983), and Sirius.
Ghostly afterthoughts of the driven individualists who pulled energy from their very essence and breathed life into the rocket systems.
These are my thoughts… the greatest accomplishment of human civilization to that point, only exceeded by the subsequent Apollo landings. A grimaced look of disgust toward post-Apollo humanity for our inexplicable and unjustifiable failure to build upon that achievement. But for our lack of willpower we would today have Heinlein’s Luna City and O’Neill’s Island One. Let’s use this shame to power a new game, a big, big game called Survival. Let’s commit ourselves to building before 2020 a self-sustaining community on the Moon so that humanity is assured of survival notwithstanding any cataclysmic event on earth. At the same time, we’ll infuse a new generation with the hope of big dreams, a love of science and a vision of forever. If we can summon out of thin air a trillion dollars for bombing Iraq, and another trillion for paying for health care, then surely there is a trillion summonable for Survival.
Delia Liza Santiago
Delia Liza Santiago is Digital Science Strategist at NASA Lunar Science Institute.
Working at NASA is more than a regular job to me; it is nourishing in a way few jobs are: daily I get to see glimpses of people discovering amazing things about the Universe we live in and doing amazing, innovating things to get there. The 40th anniversary of the first Apollo landing is particularly inspiring because it brings up an important topic that most people just don’t think of everyday: humanity pushing its boundaries out into SPACE. I can’t imagine how exciting it must have been 40 years ago, seeing a person walk on the Moon. While much has been done in the 40 years since, it is a feat hard to match. I feel that the world is at a cusp right now, with so much change, technology development, troubling political situations, and yet also possibility, that to be reminded of what humanity is capable of is so important. Space exploration has the potential to become reality in the coming years if we as humans decide to make it real, and I think stirring our spirits with reminders of Apollo 11’s landing could be a catalyst for this. Humanity is capable of so much, and space exploration is such a showcase for that, and it serves as a way to unify many around the globe. I hope the anniversary reminds us all of what humankind’s destiny can be.
John Shirley is a science fiction writer. His latest book is Black Glass.
My main thoughts about it are dual: 1) they say 6 % of Americans believe the visit to the moon was a hoax which proves that 6% of Americans are just silly damn fools and 2) NASA has done a few significant things since the moon but not much– it’s stalled on the space shuttle. NASA needs to let go of the space shuttle as soon as possible — before the shambling thing explodes in another tragedy– and implement designs for a spaceplane or elevator to orbit, something innovative that does not require the primitive adjunct of booster rockets, something that is not constantly at risk from its own fragile heat shielding tiles. It’s time to go to the next stage, the next level, in a vehicle for space travel.
Bruce Sterling is a noted American novelist and non-fiction writer. His most recent novel is Caryatids.
Well, there’s nobody waving flags on the Moon, but there are 13 people in orbit right now. The Moon shot was a national effort, a headlong space race between two superpowers. The rusty, overcrowded Space Station is the "International" Space Station. It’s cram-full of foreigners, just as mixed-up and globalized as any subway car in London, Paris, Munich, Moscow or New York.
That polyglot crew of space techies doesn’t seem to quite know what they’re doing up there. They have no visible purpose and no business model. Then again, down here on Earth, neither do we. Looks like everybody gets the space heroes they deserve.