Mooning over Apollo’s legacy

Well, 40 years ago today, Armstrong and Aldrin walked on the moon. And surprisingly little has happened since then.

OK, it was a major example of public sector bloat, reaching 6% of the USA’s GDP at one point. And like other great projects – Concorde, the Channel Tunnel – it was done for political reasons rather than engineering or scientific. But still, what an achievement: an unpressurised dot hurtling towards a distant satellite with less computing power than a pocket calculator.

Since then, manned exploration has barely left Earth’s orbit: that ridiculous jalopy called the Shuttle, a set of bolted-together tin cans called the ISS, neither of which can do anything useful. All the good stuff that’s happened in space since 1969 has been less filmworthy, but more useful: imaging extrasolar planets, researching dark matter, mapping the faint echoes of the universe’s (this universe’s, anyway) birth. And perhaps a majority of those scientists were inspired by the Apollo landings, and the knowledge they’re adding to the world today – far more cheaply – still owes a debt to Apollo.

And in another example of timing that could have been perfect, it’s also forty years and one day since David Bowie’s “Space Oddity“. Which arguably had an even greater impact.

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