Forty Years Gone: A Lamentation

Issue #30 / December 2012
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The man in the photo above is Gene Cernan, the last human to walk on the moon. Cernan left the moon in December of 1972 – forty years ago this month. No one has gone back.

To understand how far we went forty years ago, on how little technology, consider this: Our modern smart phones have 200,000 times more power than the computers that took men to the moon.

Let me restate that: Space travel can be accomplished with forty-year-old technology.

It is tragic beyond measure that human exploration has been neutered since 1972. Sure, we’ve sent out a few probes and placed a good telescope in orbit, but we have done nothing brave, nothing bold, nothing daring. Productive humans have been delegated to mute observance as their hard-earned surplus is syphoned off to capital cities, where it is sanctimoniously poured down a sewer of cultured dependencies and endless wars.

We remain locked onto this planet, not because we lack the ability to leave, but because so few of us are willing to do anything about it.

What we have lost can be measured only in the billions of unactivated lives. Fifty years ago humanity was shocked to realize that they could go to the stars. After untold millennia of looking to the heavens, of wondering, dreaming and mourning the impossibility, we saw that we could go to the stars. And for ten years we took our first brave steps, successfully!

But after our first major step away from our crib, we were thrown back and surrounded with double-height rails. Since then, we have stagnated and human culture has undergone a widespread rot. We watch science fictions about going to space, living in space and even fighting in space, but we have given up all hope of going ourselves… even though we did it just one generation ago.

Humanity – have recently discovered the ability to expand without limit – wanders aimlessly, with no challenging goal, no elevated purpose, and no path of escape. Space travel has leapfrogged us: it was done by our fathers, we imagine that it will be done by our sons, but we dare not think that it is possible to us.

Why have we not returned to space? Because we – the concerned and capable individuals of the West – haven’t seen to it ourselves. Instead, we vainly petition the state. Think about what that really means. To petition the state is to say: Please take our money, then give some of it back to us, and please order us to do what we want to do.

If that statement sounds ridiculous, that’s because it is.

We have more than enough ability to explore space right now. The men who did so a generation ago were not supermen, and they used far less knowledge and technology than we have.

I’ve met some of the people who did this forty years ago, including one of the men who walked on the moon. I found them to be decent and competent men (the astronaut struck me as especially capable), but I’ve known many other men and women who were of equal decency and competence. The fault lies not in our abilities, but in our submission to known inferiors.

Yes, of course I speak of politicians and the overseer class. Don’t we complain about them daily? Don’t we know that they lie continually? Aren’t our days filled with their impositions? Our complaints clearly judge them as moral inferiors; we just don’t dare say so explicitly. (And what does that indicate?)

Understand this: Space is against the state’s interest. It would destroy them.

If you like to know why this is so, look at what happened in the 17th century, as North America opened up. (The southern American regions featured state-controlled slavery, but the north was an anarchy, with dozens of wildly differing groups setting up in the wilderness, beyond all governance.)

People ran away from the rulers of Europe in the 17th century, even though escape was difficult, unsafe and expensive. The unspeakable truth about government is that once people have a real chance to escape it, they will risk their lives to get away. Almost no one actually wants government unless they are reaping from it. We know this because almost everyone works to reduce their taxes at almost every opportunity. You don’t do that if you value the group you are paying.

Soon, the radical ideas of John Locke had taken root in the wilderness of America and the crazy “cast-offs” (actually escapees) of Europe didn’t want kings from across the ocean trying to run their lives and take their money.

 

“But,” some will say, “didn’t government take us to the moon?”

Yes, it did, with our money, our efforts, our expertise, and our passion. So, what exactly did the state do? The answer is that they ordered people around, and that’s all.

And why, exactly, couldn’t we organize ourselves? Businesses do that (and more efficiently) every day.

The truth is that the US government arranged the moon missions because they were afraid of the Soviets gaining and advantage in space and because John Kennedy needed a distraction from his failures. Here is what Wally Shirra (Mercury 8, Gemini 6, Apollo 7) had to say about it:

Kennedy had made a mess in Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. He had to do something to look good. The Apollo program of going to the Moon was quite a goal.

Now, getting back to the 17th century:

Perhaps even more repellent to the states than people running away was the fact that the imaginations of men opened up and challenged the states’ myths. The possibility of living an unruled life opened men’s imaginations to all sorts of possibilities, including other ways of living. Rulership could now be imagined as a thing that might change, or perhaps vanish altogether.

Historically, utopian novels were very few. Wikipedia lists only six utopian novels written before Columbus opened travel to the Americas, and that number includes Plato’s political book The Republic, the Bible’s Revelation and Augustine’s City of God… not what we normally think of as utopian novels. From Columbus to the end of the 17th century, however – a period of only about 200 years – we have these famous utopian novels, plus an unknown number of others:

  • Utopia by Thomas More, 1516
  • Gargantua, by François Rabelais, 1532.
  • La Citta Felice, Frane Petric, 1553.
  • Christianopolis by Johann Valentin, 1619.
  • The City of the Sun, by Tommaso Campanella, 1623.
  • New Atlantis, by Francis Bacon, 1627
  • The Law of Freedom in a Platform, by Gerrard Winstanley, 1652.

Notice also, that as soon as imaginations opened to spaceflight as a serious possibility, science fiction – a modern version of the utopian novel – exploded as an art form.

  

Can you imagine what would happen to government in space? Once beyond Earth’s gravity well, the spacefarers would be gone forever: no more taxes, no more obedience, and heaps of scorn for the distant barbarians who demanded money and attempted violence to get it. Space would be the 17th century American wilderness on steroids. Politicians and tax gatherers would have no hope of keeping up. Space is a territory that expends exponentially (as a cube of the distance) and endlessly. The numbers look like this:

  • At one million miles, government requires 4,188,000,000 billion cubic miles of dominance.
  • At two million miles it is 33,504,000 billion cubic miles of dominance.
  • At three million miles it is 113,076,000,000 billion cubic miles of dominance.
  • At four million miles it is 268,032,000,000 billion cubic miles of dominance.

And so on. They could never again contain humans and remove their money by force. Those cows would never be milked again.

I should add that one million miles in space is almost trivial. At the speeds used forty years ago, that’s only 38.5  hours of travel.

17th century voyages across the Atlantic took weeks, and there was no lack of paying passengers. In three weeks time, traveling only at the speeds used when going to the moon between 1968 and 1972 (they could have gone much faster with more time), a modern traveler would go 13 million miles.

So, there is no hope of governments getting us back to space. Asking them to take us would be as silly as asking a burglar: please use the money you took to buy me an alarm.

And what became of the past forty years? There has been no striving, no searching, no becoming. Instead, we’ve had:

  • 24/7 entertainment, which made billions of otherwise-productive hours worthless.
  • An obscene level of advertising that replaced authentic imagination and dreams with scientifically implanted manipulations.
  • A success ethic that addresses the animal aspects of human life while utterly ignoring its higher aspects.
  • Fame for the basest, weirdest and most lurid men and women; conformity for everyone else.
  • The glorification and unlimited empowerment of the institution.

We’ve had boring, washed-out decades, focused on anything but the awe-inspiring, the good, and the truly heroic. (Those things stink for selling beer, movies and designer jeans.) Four decades were stripped of the greatest excitement, discovery and growth that have ever been possible to our species.

Our current decade features no goals save bodily comfort and no aspirations save existence and status. Underlying it all is a palette of manufactured fears that can only be salved by buying the right products or electing the right politicians. We are living though the triumph of manipulation and the disappearance of vigorous individuals.

The 1950s are generally considered a time of mass conformity, but they look like an era of radical searching and experimentation compared to the fully-scripted lives of today’s ‘successful’ people.

Up till about 1970, new technologies were being developed profligately: jets, spacecraft, fiber optics, integrated circuits, lasers, plastics, satellites, Internet protocol, and more. Since then, we’ve had almost no primary inventions. Yes, there have been refinements – TV now features hundreds of channels (which are still mostly worthless), walkie-talkies have grown up to be cell phones, and computers have much more power –  but very few new technologies have shown up.

Returning to space wouldn’t be terribly hard, but it involves risks, and this era’s people just don’t have the will for it. Life has become about comfort, not discovery; about status, not striving. When all you want from your life is food, sex and comfort, you don’t risk going to space.

The men who went into space knew that death was a possibility, but they valued more than just animal rewards; they wanted to excel, to touch the heavens, to expand, to become more. In the broader cultures of the West, that attitude has been almost entirely lost.

It may be that the next generation will demand more out of life than animal gratifications. Such changes have occurred in the past. Would to god that they come again soon.

39 years later, the relics of the last moon mission could be clearly seen in this lunar probe photo.

Setting up a moon station would have been easy – there were already buggies and landing stages available.

Actually, if four or five of the Apollo missions had brought the appropriate materials (instead of multiple buggies), the astronauts could easily have built a small moon base.

There is ice at the moon’s poles and plenty of solar energy. Manufacturing water, hydrogen and oxygen would be simple and automatic. We could have had a base there all this time, and from there the next steps would have been easy.

I thought we’d go to the moon and put up a base, and stay there. We should have done that. If we had, the world would be infinitely better off than they are today. But we didn’t.

– John Young, Apollo 16

I fully expected that, by the end of the century, we would have achieved substantially more than we actually did.

– Neil Armstrong, Apollo 11

I’ve always thought Space Station is a great name. It should be like a gas station where we go for service and supplies before heading further out.

– Wally Schirra, Apollo 7

 

It’s in the nature of the human being to face challenges. It’s by the nature of his deep inner soul… we’re required to do these things just as salmon swim upstream.

The important achievement of Apollo was demonstrating that humanity is not forever chained to this planet and our visions go rather further than that and our opportunities are unlimited.

– Neil Armstrong, Apollo 11

We cannot predict the new forces, powers, and discoveries that will be disclosed to us when we reach the other planets and set up new laboratories in space. They are as much beyond our vision today as fire or electricity would be beyond the imagination of a fish.

– Arthur C. Clarke, Space and the Spirit of Man

Being limited to this one little backwater of a planet with its 200 squabbling nation-states spread over it like a scabrous disease is not very appealing to me. It’s time to get off the damned planet.

– Doug Casey

And what happens to humans themselves (and by that I mean internally) once we get to space and have a few moments to “consider the heavens”?

All evidences are that humans in space think more deeply, more expansively, and more spiritually (though not necessarily more religiously)… that their consciousness opens up and expands.

And again I ask: What has been lost to us?

Out there on another planet, I was looking back at the Earth, or I was looking back at the other stars in the universe –  science and technology could no longer explain to me what I was feeling. Not just what I was seeing, it’s what I was feeling. And I kept thinking, above all religions, there has to be a creator.

It was to me like I was just sitting on a rocking chair on a Friday evening, looking back home, sitting on God’s front porch, looking back at the Earth; looking back home. It was really that simple, but it was an overpowering experience.

I’m sure that viewing the world from the moon only enriched me spiritually and also gave me a new vantage point on life… Anyone who walked on the moon had such a spiritual experience, similar to it or stronger.

– Gene Cernan, Apollo 17

On the way home… the earth, the moon, the sun and a whole 360 degree panorama of the heavens, and that was the powerful, overwhelming experience. And suddenly I realized that the molecules of my body, the molecules of the spacecraft, the molecules of the bodies of my partners, were prototyped, were manufactured in some ancient generation of stars. And that was an overwhelming sense of oneness and connectedness. It wasn’t them and us, it was… one thing. And it was accompanied by an ecstasy.

My view of our planet was a glimpse of divinity… We went to the moon as technicians, we returned as humanitarians.

– Edgar Mitchell, Apollo 14

Since that time I have not complained about the weather one single time. I’m glad there is weather. I’ve not complained about traffic; I’m glad there are people around. One of the  things I did when I got home; I went down to shopping centers, and I’d just go out there, get an ice cream cone or something, and just watch the people go by. And think “Boy we’re lucky to be here. Why do people complain about the Earth? We’re living in the garden of Eden.”

– Alan Bean, Apollo 12

A lot of things that used to seem important, by comparison, don’t seem as much so… And maybe some of our terrestrial squabbles don’t seem as important after having flown to the moon, as before.

– Michael Collins, Apollo 11

I had an enormous feeling that there had to be a power greater than any of us—that there was a God, that there was indeed a beginning.

– Frank Borman, Apollo 8

The world itself looks cleaner and so much more beautiful. Maybe we can make it that way – the way God intended it to be – by giving everyone, eventually, that new perspective from out in space.

– Roger Chaffee, Apollo 10

The Earth reminded us of a Christmas tree ornament hanging in the blackness of space. As we got farther and farther away it diminished in size. Finally it shrank to the size of a marble, the most beautiful marble you can imagine. That beautiful, warm, living object looked so fragile, so delicate, that if you touched it with a finger it would crumble and fall apart. Seeing this has to change a man, has to make a man appreciate the creation of God and the love of God.

– James Irwin, Apollo 15

As Neil and I first stood on the surface of the moon looking back at Earth—a bright blue marble suspended in the blackness of space—the experience moved us in ways that we could not have anticipated.

– Buzz Aldrin, Apollo 11

 

This is the great day. This is the greatest event in all the history of the human race up to this time. That is, today is New Year’s Day of the Year One. If we don’t change the calendar, historians will do so… this is our change, our puberty rite, bar mitzvah, confirmation, the change from infancy into adulthood for the human race. And we’re going to go on out, not only to the Moon, but to the stars; we’re going to spread… it’s utterly inevitable: we’re going to spread through the entire universe.

– Robert Heinlein, being interviewed by Walter Cronkite, July 20, 1969

When we lost the moon we lost our bearings; there was no distant star to guide us, no magnificent vision to pursue. Four decades on we remain in a kind of stasis, mollified with streaming vanities and base satisfactions.

Perhaps we should have known that this would be the result. But when… When shall we recover our vision and return to the stars?

 

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See you next month.

PR

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