Cultural Inertia: Remember how 45 years ago we were suddenly able to say: “If we can send a man to the moon, why can’t we (fill in the blank)”? If only we could say the same today.
It’s worth remembering Neil Armstrong’s July 21, 1969 “giant leap for mankind,” if only as a measure of what the country used to be able to accomplish, but increasingly can’t do today. When President Kennedy announced his goal of “sending a man to the moon and returning him safely to earth” in less than nine years, it was a laughably audacious promise.
By May 1961, all the country had managed to achieve in space was to toss Alan Shepard up in a 15-minute suborbital flight powered by a tiny Redstone rocket.
Scientists and engineers still hadn’t decided how they’d land on the moon (they didn’t settle on the lunar lander concept until late 1962). The massive F-1 engines needed to lift the Saturn V rocket off the ground were still mostly theoretical. And only a handful of people were even involved in space flight at the time.
Yet the country brushed aside bureaucratic obstacles, quickly overcame political and technical setbacks and met Kennedy’s goal with time to spare.
Today, despite all the technological advances, a calcified NASA has spent nearly a decade just trying to build an updated version of the Apollo command module, with a manned mission at least six more years away.
Sure, Kennedy had the Cold War space race to motivate the country. But that wasn’t the only reason Apollo succeeded. Up until then, whatever the project, Americans would set their minds to it and just get it done.
Not so today. It took just 16 years to build the Brooklyn Bridge — a true engineering marvel of the time — after the New York state legislature approved it in 1867.
Comment: If we tried to go to the moon today, the EPA would claim environmental jurisdiction over it….