Today, of course, is the fortieth 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. The fact that the following month many of this idea gathered on Yasgur’s Farm for Woodstock underscores the fact.
If we look back on the last two score, we see the trillions spent on what are called “entitlements.” They have become the mainstay (and eventually the undoing) of the Federal budget. Compared to that the money we have spent on the space program (to say nothing of more mundane productivity enhancers such as transportation) doesn’t amount to much. Today we’re towards the end of the shuttle program; we’re sending old tubs into space held together by bailing wire. The future for going to Mars, let alone back to the Moon, is uncertain, muddied by the same kind of luddites that decried our original effort.
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.