35 years ago today…

35 years ago, two men came within 20 seconds of dying 250,000 miles away.

Hours after averting tragedy, a very young Eric Gunnerson got to stay up late to watch Neil Armstrong walk on the moon.

I was 5.

I've always been a bit of a space nut, and my memory is full of important points in space history:

  • Armstrong and Aldrin's lunar landing

  • Apollo 13

  • Apollo Soyuz

  • Skylab

  • The first flight of Columbia

  • The last flight of Challenger

  • The last flight of Columbia

But watching NASA the last 15 years makes me sad. Despite some good efforts to reform the culture and get back to the kind of organization that recovered from Apollo 1, NASA has not suceeded in reforming itself, and it's stuck with a hugely expensive shuttle and a space station without a clearly-defined purpose. The unmanned and astronomy programs continue to be excellent, but manned spaceflight has lost it's way.

At this point, I think you'd get a better result if you cancelled two shuttle flights and gave Burt Rutan and Lockheed Skunkworks the money for one flight, and let them work to advance the state of the art.

But having said that, I would like commemorate the dedication and sacrifice of all those involved in Apollo. Many sacrificed money and their family relationships to the cause. Some gave their lives. Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee died in the Apollo 1 fire. Charles Bassett, Theodore Freeman, Elliot See, and Clifton Williams died in training mission plane crashes.

Here's hoping that this is not the last time that humans will walk on other worlds.

Comments (16)

  1. Ramanan says:

    Are manned space flights even needed anymore ? I think, ideally, time would be better spent developing robots (and the like) that can withstand extreme conditions and do our bidding.

  2. mkj6 says:

    Actually we are spending money for bombing other countries. That’s why after 35 years (I was born in 1969) we are no more able to walk on other worlds, I guess.

  3. Kevin Daly says:

    I remember I was eight years old when Armstrong and Aldrin walked on the moon – we had to listen to it on the radio at school (I *think* we were still unable to get live satellite TV broadcasts here then, the first receiver hadn’t been completed yet).

    I wasn’t taken by surprise as a lot of people seemed to be because I was mad about astronomy and space travel and knew every crazy angle of the LEM. But it still seemed to change everything – one of those moments when humanity lifts its eyes from the mud and has a vision of what it could be.

    As a species (and it must involve everyone) we *have* to go back, and beyond.

    And it’s a much better use of time, money, effort and even lives (when risked freely and not thrown away through incompetence or penny-pinching) than thinking up ingenious ways to murder each other.

  4. AbbaGabba says:

    In response to "Are manned flights even needed anymore?" My whole-hearted answer is YES. Not all flights need to carry human beings but we must never forget that exploration, in this manner, is a human endeavor and although data streaming back from the robots we use now are informative nothing is as powerful to the human spirit than hearing the awe in the voices of those who are lucky enough to venture physically into space. One other argument for keeping people in the space vehicles is that in my experienve as an educator, it is tons easier to raise the enthusiasm of youngsters who are learning science by being able to share the stories of real people experiencing real science. I also look forward to the day (hopefully in my lifetime) when a person will walk on another world, again.

  5. Sushant Bhatia says:

    I agree with AbbaGabba. I hope to see Man on Mars someday. What a day that would be. Man on the first planet other than his own. On that day, all will stop and the world will shut down to witness a moment in history, never seen before, a moment to be remembered…forever.

  6. <nitpick>There were actually THREE men on Apollo 13/nitpick>

    (The CM Pilots never got any respect…)

  7. Ooof, bad comment 🙂 I had been off trawling through all the fun failure modes of Apollo 13 and saw "13" here where Eric had actually written "11". My bad.

  8. James Risto says:

    Nice salute to a historic event. However, I don’t believe NASA deserves criticism for what they have done since then. You at MS are insulated from this but … in the corporate world, common sense is at an all-time low and exec bonuses, favoritism, penny-pinching and legal fear are at an all-time high. My suspicion is that NASA faces the same. It is amazing that they can do what they do now at all.

  9. jeff jones says:

    Bush is too busy killing people to fix the space program….its a shame

  10. Adam says:

    jeff jones: After 2 planes crash into the world trade center taking hundreds of american lives I’m sure any other presidents first concern would be the space program.

    eric: NASA is a great example of a government funded program. If we want more advancements in that area it is going to have to be done by the private sector. But for the private sector to get involved there has to be money to be made.

  11. Bob says:

    It is with great sadness that I realize that none of my children have ever been able to step outside at night, look up, and say, like I did with awe, "There are humans up there on the moon."

    It is my hope that they will be able to do so at some point in their lives.

  12. We should explore other worlds. It’s investment. How do you think Texas Instruments calculaters came about?

    In response to the individual stating we are spending money bombing other coutries and "That’s why after 35 years (I was born in 1969) we are no more able to walk on other worlds, I guess."

    Go visit the World Trade Center and walk on it. Or just visit the memorial. How soon we forget! Support Our Troops (to clarify for those that forget, our sons and daughters).

  13. Randy says:

    I was 13 when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, i was sitting on the living room floor with my parents watching the 19inch black and white tv,i was wondering was there were any life on the moon at the time, it was exciting, that was the year of hippies heavy drugs LSD WOODSTOCK, Charles Manson boy what a year.

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