Monday, March 22, 2010

Further to the last blog...

Relating to my comments from the last blog, here's an article in the Guardian (from 2009). For a change, it's one that makes sense.

It's also depressing, and appropriately so:

...The universe is still waiting. There has been no great leap. Indeed, the United States, which next month celebrates Apollo 11's 40th anniversary, will soon have no way of putting men and women into space at all....

....The moon landings marked not the beginning, but the end, of our space dreams...

The point I was trying to make, about the loss of spirit, comes through with some fascinating observations:

"A great many Americans suffered premature heart attacks and strokes from their efforts in making the Apollo project succeed. More than 400,000 workers were employed by private contractors to build capsules, rocket engines, space suits, and computers for Apollo and the vast majority worked flat out, over weekends and holidays, much of the time for free, for several years to make sure the programme succeeded."

For example, at the Grumman factory in New Jersey, where the lunar module was built, staff would clock off at 5pm, leave by the front door, walk round to the back and work for free until midnight. Similarly, employees at the International Latex Corporation - which made the suits worn by the Apollo astronauts - worked with equally obsessive intensity. In a recent documentary, the company's senior seamstress, Eleanor Foraker, recalled working 80-hour weeks without days off or holidays for three continuous years, suffering two nervous breakdowns in the process. "I would leave the plant at five o'clock in the morning and be back by seven. But it was worth it, it really was."

Imagine anything like that happening today. In your dreams!

I know, it sounds terrible, all those heart attacks and stressed-out people. But see what they accomplished, with a technology that by today's standards is less than pitiful:

Armstrong, Aldrin and Michael Collins - who would pilot Apollo 11's command module while his two crewmates descended to the lunar surface - guided their craft using sextants, slide-rules and a computer that had less power than a modern mobile phone.

The things we can do, if only we have the spirit to—as individuals and together. But who still has that spirit? It's been leached out of us by a combination of factors, too numerous—and contentious, controversial and probably offensive to the ears of most—for me to actually spell out. The only remnant of such a spirit nowadays resides in religious movements that aim to conquer the world with their insanities.

We have fallen a long way. We've turned mottled green instead of a clear-sky blue. Our fears and insecurities are blotting out whatever pathetic remnants of courage we appear to have left. And if we survive, it will be because of sheer dumb, and utterly undeserved, luck.

Meanwhile R.I.U.P. space programme.

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