Fear of the USSR, not love of science and exploration, put Neil Armstrong on the moon
Posted by David Brooks | Monday, August 27, 2012
(UPDATE: Check out an incredible video at Air&Space magazine showing Armstrong almost getting killed in a training accident with the lunar lander. It's amazing: Here it is.)
The death of Neil Armstrong has provided an opportunity for lots of folks to lament that humans haven't returned to the moon, or even left low-Earth orbit, in decades. The argument often runs along the lines of "we used to have scientific vision, now we don't".
But as the NY Times' DotEarth blog reminds us, it wasn't vision that made sure the Eagle had landed - it was fear that the Soviets would do it first. It didn't take long after the landing for the USSR to basically give up, and then Apollo funding disappeared. The fact that there's been no competitor to create a "space race" explains the shortage of funding and vision since then, as it were.
The Chinese look promising, though; they're eyeing the moon!
By the way, my personal opinion is that low-Earth orbit is just fine for human space-faring - leave the rest to robots, because they can accomplish vastly more. I admit that my Robert Heinlein-reading teenage self would be appalled at this opinion.