Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Whitey on the Moon

with 4 comments

Alongside the nationalist mythmaking and the hypermasculine preoccupation with “bigness” you’d expect to find at a place like the Kennedy Space Center there’s a fin de siècle affect of nostalgia for empire nearly everywhere you turn. Never really sure how to celebrate its post-Apollo failures in the first place, the KSC staff appears to have been completely demoralized by the retiring of the Space Shuttle and the Obama administration’s recent decision to cancel the Ares project, with nearly every employee we heard speak during our tour giving voice to their dejection in one way or another.

As I’ve mentioned several times before, I find I’m totally conflicted on the value of manned space exploration. On the one hand I think the myth of space colonization is both hugely wasteful and politically pernicious; I don’t think the species is ever leaving Earth in significant numbers and as a consequence there are almost certainly better ways to spend our money than pretending that we might.

On the other hand I have to admit I was moved to tears during the Center’s long program detailing Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the Moon and the attendant global celebration, which remains such a singular human achievement that I’d pay almost any price to live to see it someday replicated by an international mission to Mars. Intellectually I am able to look critically at the military-industrial-academic underpinings of the NASA missions and recognize the state interests and imperial ideologies at work in them, but emotionally it’s as if loving this stuff is coded in my DNA. I just can’t help it. I think manned space exploration is almost certainly pointless but I deeply, deeply hope I turn out to be wrong.

4 Responses

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  1. i feel like i remember you having said to us in class what you’re saying in this post.


    March 21, 2010 at 2:18 am

  2. Focused on gold, the exploring conquistadors saw no treasure north of the Aztecs. They could not see our mid-latitude deciduous biome for the trees. Big mistake. Gold-wealth wasn’t sustainable; agronomy is. Since Apollo, arguably our greatest modern exploration, we’ve made a similar perceptual error, thinking outer space empty because we can’t see energy. Yet, out there, the Mother of All Energy Sources showers us with intense solar radiation, 24 hours a day, unlimited by obscuring atmosphere. If we’d extended the R&D we started with Skylab in 1973, we’d be getting clean electricity from Solar Power Satellites by now. But, no, we waffled. We counted beans. In the stuttering start-stop cycle of politically-driven policy changes, we broke up tooling and laid off talent and spent more money going nowhere than we ever did going somewhere. Too bad. Where there is no vision, the people perish.

    Sam Blair

    March 21, 2010 at 4:00 am

  3. Do you think they can use the same studio in Hoboken for the Mars landing, or have today’s advanced film special effects raised the bar and they’ll have to do this one in Hollywood instead?


    March 21, 2010 at 8:37 am

  4. Three weeks ago today, spoiledboy and her were driving the length of Florida on 95, and stopped by Cocoa Beach in search of caffeine. He knew that those space engineers must require coffee.
    While he gassed the car, she went inside to use the facilities and ask if there was a Starbucks nearby, because spoiledboy wanted or needed, it was never completely clear, an espresso.
    The attendant took serious offense at the question. The recollection is that he said something to the effect of “How can you even think of expensive coffee drinks in our current situation? Cape Canaveral is closing and space travel is over and you (implied, “insensitive, yankee bastards”) want luxury coffee?”
    The team raced further southward, intent on leaving the country behind as quickly as possible, and seeking the dream room of free espresso.


    March 21, 2010 at 9:26 am

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