We had our twelve year old grandson and eight year old granddaughter visiting us for a week. A trip to the Kennedy Space Center was in order. If you haven’t been, it is extraordinary. It is a microcosm of our ingenuity, steadfastness and yes, at times our arrogance.
In 1962 when President John F. Kennedy made his pronouncement that we would get to the moon before the end of the decade we witnessed a shift of gears from low to high, that the world had never seen. In the Space Park you see the early versions of rocketry and are astounded how far we have become in both payloads and sophistication.
You keep saying to yourself that it was 50 years ago we went to the moon. There was a coordinated effort beyond imagination in that 400,000 people of all sorts were involved in the project. We were clever enough to assemble rockets, install tracking systems, plan for all sorts of catastrophes and above all, pull it off before the advent of cell phones and personal computers.
When you look at the behemoth rockets and cargo bays of the shuttle you begin to fathom the complexity of millions of parts that are somehow strewn together and work in perfect harmony. Just one breakdown would spell doom as it did with Challenger and a faulty “O” ring. Yet fatalities over the time span of a more than ambitious program were relatively few. From 1981 to 2011 there were 185 missions flown. Astounding!
Now one can argue is it all worth it? Have the trillions of dollars spent worldwide really brought us a better planet. One can say surveillance in space has brought about world peace if for no other reason than keeping everyone honest. There have been all sorts of technological advancements from advanced alloys to toilets that are self sufficient. Yes we can even drink our own urine but let’s not go there. But that is not my takeaway.
First is that we are just a dot in a myriad of galaxies. Who knows if there is life out there? Not quite sure if that really makes a difference to me. It is almost arrogant, and not surprisingly so, that we want to take our form of civilization somewhere else. This compulsion to colonize Mars seems somewhat absurd when we have so much to do here.
The second and more important insight I derived is that when we put our mind to something and finance it properly we can achieve results that are beyond amazing and in a relatively short period of time. Why do we seem to be bogged down with the most elementary problems of our time when we have gone to the moon.
“The future is plastics, my boy” as we were told in the Graduate. This fantastic polymer has been a Godsend to our lives for decades. I took a count of the number of times I encountered plastic everyday in my life and was blown away. From my Diet Coke bottle to my golf balls to the tube for my tooth paste, it habituates and at the same time destroys the marine environment I so treasure.
Let’s not get into the politics of petrochemicals but can you tell me that no one along the line has given a thought to the indestructibility of the coffee cup lids and disposable diapers until now? Were we asleep at the switch or just malfeasant. We put it in the environment. Can’t our highly creative minds figure out a way to get it out? And before 2025 or 2050 or whatever. .
My two favorites are rust and asphalt. Think about rust for a minute. Our bridges, the undersides of our cars, our pipes, our ironwork succumb to this devilish little oxide. It still exists after centuries of destruction. No one has come up with a way to eliminate it.
Ditto asphalt. Every year the northern climes breed millions of pot holes. They not only have to be repaired but the growth economy of tire replacement and wheel realignment thrives as well. Can’t we come up with some sort of resin or epoxy that is indestructible? Isn’t there some genius out there come up with these seemingly simple solutions? Probably not sexy enough to spend one’s time on.
We have cancers of the body and cancers of the mind. We spend so much on tumors and growths but how much do we spend on brain research by comparison? We have every sort of treatment center for lungs and kidneys and livers but we look the other way on what is between our ears. Would a moon shot type effort bring a little more peace and quiet to our unsettled minds.
The long and the short are simple. If Elon or Jeff wants to live on Mars let them…at their own cost. It almost seems their desire to go is the result of a world they helped create being less habitable than the Red Planet. Contrary to current thought, let’s assume the checkbook is limited. What are the problems in our society that if given the same set of coordinated effort and funding that Apollo had, could we solve once and for all.
We had a vision that was monumental and we succeeded. We have so many things on our “to do” lists as a nation and a world that rate that same type of attention. Poverty, food shortages, disease, education. Yikes. We have enough to keep us busy without leaving our Big Blue Marble. Maybe we should reestablish our priorities? Wouldn’t that be out of this world?
Ted The Great
Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy is where the Shuttles were blasted into orbit. The base of the pad has 100’s of thousands of gallons of water pumped to deaden the noise and impact. The white billow clouds are actually steam. If you were within 500 feet the concussion would kill you. If you were within 1000 feet the noise would kill you.
There are 2.7 million miles of roads in the US. 94% of them are paved with asphalt. There are 3500 plants throughout the US putting out 400 million tons of the black stuff annually.
Rust is formed on metal surfaces with the combination of water and air. Rust could cost the world well over $685 billion per annum. The cost to the US alone is pegged at over $300 billion.
We spend over $225 billion on mental health per annum. Approximately 15.7 million people are alcoholics and 15 million have some kind of drug dependency. We spend over $10,000 per capita or $3.5 trillion on healthcare as a whole.