The Romance of Space-Exploration

In memory of Neil Armstrong (August 5, 1930 – August 25, 2012) the first human being to step onto another world. CJ Stone considers the economics and the romance of space exploration. Is it worth the cost?

Saturn as seen from the satellite Cassini
Saturn as seen from the satellite Cassini
GLAST blast-off
GLAST blast-off

In The Shadow of the Moon Trailer

Earthrise from the Moon
Earthrise from the Moon
Lunar Lander. "Like the inside of somebody's shed."
Lunar Lander. "Like the inside of somebody's shed."

Science and Romance

It's happened a couple of times recently. There's been an item on the news about a NASA space programme and whoever it is sitting with me - my Mum on one occasion, my brother-in-law on another - has made a disparaging remark. "A waste of money," they say. "They should be spending that money on Earth."

There are several NASA missions going on currently.

There's a Mars mission, with a little robot called Phoenix wandering around chewing up bits of the Martian landscape to bring back to Earth; there's a satellite called Cassini doing loop-the-loops around the Saturn system, peering at its moons; and there's a new telescope which was launched recently, called GLAST - which stands for Gamma-ray Large Area Telescope - which is scouring deep space for radiation blasted from the super-concentrated black holes which are thought to exist in the heart of every galaxy.

I don't know. Aren't you excited by this? The very idea of space exploration is the epitome of romance to me.

In my imagination there's a part of me out there wandering in the infinite desolation of space with these machines. They are remote control vehicles for the strange miracle we call life from this oasis, the Earth.

There was a great movie on Channel 4 recently, called In The Shadow of the Moon, about the Moon landings.

It contains archive footage of the nine missions that went to the Moon between 1968 and 1972, plus interviews with some of the guys who took part.

There's something about those men. A quality. A presence. A sense of wonder. It's as if, having stepped upon the surface of the Moon, having felt its gravitational embrace, they have left something of themselves back there which still speaks to them through all that distance of time and space.

A friend of mine, Fraser, went to the NASA museum in Washington to see the bit of Apollo 11 that came back. He told me they have a Lunar Lander there and that the controls are amazingly simple - winding handles with cords attached. "This was the sixties," Fraser told me, "everything was mechanical. It looked a bit like the inside of somebody's shed. Can you imagine how brave those chaps were? They were further away than virtually anybody had ever been, dependent on bits of string to land their spaceship."

These men are the only human beings ever to have visited the Moon.

They are the only ones to have seen the Earth from another world.

Here are some descriptions of the experience by the men who went there.

"I felt that I was literally standing on a plateau some where out there in space, a plateau that science and technology had allowed me to get to, but now what I was seeing, and even more important, what I was feeling, at that moment in time, science and technology had no answers for, because there I was, and there you are, the Earth, dynamic, overwhelming, and I felt that the world has too much purpose, too much logic, was just too beautiful to have happened by accident, there has to be somebody bigger than you and bigger than me, and I mean this in a spiritual sense not a religious sense, there has to be a creator of the universe that stands above the religions that we ourselves create to govern our lives." Gene Cernan, Apollo 10 & 17.

"The fact that just from the distance of the Moon you could put your thumb up, and you could hide the Earth behind your thumb. Everything that you've ever known... all behind your thumb, and how insignificant we really all are; but then how fortunate we are to have this body and to be able to enjoy living here amongst the beauty of the Earth itself." Jim Lovell, Apollo 8 & 13.

"It truly is an oasis, and we don't take very good care of it, and the elevation of that awareness is a real contribution to saving the Earth itself." Dave Scott, Apollo 9 & 15.

You see, I think the economics behind my Mum and my brother-in-law's argument is wrong.

It's not a case of money being better spent anywhere else. There's a sound argument, put forward by respected economist John Maynard Keynes, that says the economic system needs to be primed from the collective purse continually for it to survive, and that research and development of cutting-edge technology filters down into innovations that benefit us all. It's how computers came about remember.

It's also question of what you think science is for.

At the moment the bulk of public money allocated to science is spent on figuring out better ways of blowing people up, while private capital is spent discovering exciting new ways of mixing avocado oil with conditioner to make your hair more shiny.

Me, I'd rather money was spent peering into the depths of time and space looking for black holes, and maybe, one day, going back to the Moon again.

Maybe this time we can build a Moon Base there.

Mike Collins, who, along with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin was on the Apollo 11 mission, said this: "After the flight the three of us went on an around the world trip. Wherever we went, people, instead of saying, 'well you Americans did it', everywhere they said, 'we did it,' - we human kind, we the human race, we people did it. I'd never heard people in different countries use this world 'we' - we, we, we - as emphatically as we were hearing from Europeans, Asians, Africans, wherever we went, 'we finally did it', and I thought that was a wonderful thing."

That was the power the Moon landings had to bring the people of the Earth together.

Given the amount of money currently being spent on blowing up kids and their families in Iraq and Afghanistan, don't you think it is time we allowed ourselves to dream again?

Titan, a Moon of Saturn, as seen from Cassini
Titan, a Moon of Saturn, as seen from Cassini

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Comments 20 comments

Eileen Hughes profile image

Eileen Hughes 8 years ago from Northam Western Australia

This was brilliant.  It must have been so scary landing on the moon way back then, more like reading the comic strips.

I do believe that we should spend more on fixing our badly lacking medical system first.  We are losing so many people because of the waiting problems in our hospitals.

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pgrundy 8 years ago

Another wonderful hub, thank you CJ. When the moon landing happened, my mother was in the hospital and the lady in the bed next to her as well as several of the staff were all watching it together, and about half of them were convinced it as all staged, that it didn't really happen. That was weird.

I do think space exploration is worth every cent. I'm looking forward to the analysis of the ice found recently on Mars. It's so exciting. For all we know, we could be from Mars ourselves--I understand this was a popular idea back when Jules Verne was writing--that there were Martians, and they are us.

JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 8 years ago from Central Oklahoma

Thank you for reminding us that Earth is only a small part of the Universe. I've often wondered how any astronaut, not just those who had the privilege of visiting the moon, could ever be truly earthbound again after seeing it from space. Their sense of wonder would be the 20th century version of "sailing off the edge of the earth" in a ship and finding new continents. Space is our Uncharted Waters, and the money used to explore it should not be stopped.

Pouring billions into figuring out "better" ways to blow up people and the countries they inhabit is the occupation of tiny minds.

Were that money not being wasted on such purposes, there'd be more than enough to fix the medical system and other ills of our earthbound societies AND explore space too. Each time a government reduces funding for the poor and elderly, or allows factories to close and its jobs be eliminated, it stifles the creativity that produce modern miracles like the space program and computers.

It's tiny minds that should be eliminated!

Constant Walker profile image

Constant Walker 8 years ago from Springfield, Oregon

Good stuff, as always, CJ. It's so important that we continue space exploration, and so important that we put serious funds and technology and action into out own blue planet. Can't we do both?

CJStone profile image

CJStone 8 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

Eileen yes it's obvious money has to be spent on the medical system. I mentioned John Maynard Keynes in the piece. He was the one who said that the economic system needed money from the public purse to keep it going. It was known as the Mixed Economy, and what Keynes suggested was that it should be spent on health and social services, which is basically how the economies of Europe work. In the United States the mechanism was the military, what Chomsky calls "Military Keynsianism". It's still public money, only it goes straight into private hands. It's not spent on the public. But why not: why not space AND health and education?

CJStone profile image

CJStone 8 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

Glad you like it too pgrundy, JamaGenee and Constant Walker. As usual I'm just suggesting possibilities. It's what the imagination is for, which is what the current world-regime seems to lack somehow. I think the other point is that back then the people of the world genuinely admired the States for what it had achieved here. We all felt we were a part of this magnificent endeavour.

Constant Walker profile image

Constant Walker 8 years ago from Springfield, Oregon

Indeed, so much has changed. Now, instead of leading the pack and setting good examples, we are the opposite: The Kyoto Accord, for example. America is the worst offender when it comes to global trashiness, yet Bush refused -the only world leader to so, I believe- to sign. I'd never before been ashamed and embarrassed to be an American, but I was then - as I have been since he's been in power.

When is election time again!!!

CJStone profile image

CJStone 8 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

Constant Walker, I look forward to seeing the results.

Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 8 years ago from California

Awesome article.  I LOVE space exploration and, frankly, in a world where God seems to have vanished for so many, there is no place better to find Him again than space.  So many astronauts (as you showed) discover humility again out there.  I believe we were given intelligence for a reason, and part of that was to press the limits of the gifts we were given.  Divine knowledge came/comes in phases (for those willing to look back past the most recent one) and I expect the next chapter is only revealed when we are ready - just as children learn in increments.  Or maybe I just hope that, but, history supports me so, it's something.  People who don't think we should expand our understanding of the universe, and who don't recognize the essential nature of that investigation and moving ever outward, don't recognize that only mosquito larvae grow in stagnant ponds.  Awesome hub, you always kick down quality work, Cj.

Creativita 8 years ago

CJ, You dreamer, you. Yes, whatever we do "scientifically" or "exploratorially" to uncover other worlds out in the galaxy (or is it galaxies?) surely filters down to us earthlings as innovations in medicine, nutrition, exercise physiology, psychology, creativity, and so forth. Potential benefits are exponential. However, what happens if our astronauts and astronautresses run into some Extra-terrestrials?

I say, CJ, we don't need any extra terrrestrials! With the population explosion all over planet earth, I say we have enough terrestrials as it is! Don't laugh (if you can help it). -Helen (a.k.a. Creativita)

CJStone profile image

CJStone 8 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

Back in the hippies days there was one slogan I really Liked. It was "All Power to the Imagination" That's the point of space technology to me. t frees the imagination to explore. Will we ever find life out there? I don't know. Will we ever be able to get a fotthold out there? I doubt it. But we learn how small we are and how glorious the creation that surrounds us and that, to me, is as good a lesson as you can learn. Thanks for your comments Helen and Shadesbreath. You're right Helen, there's hardly room for us Earthlings, but if you go over to Bard of Ely's site, you'll find that, according to his philiosophy, the aliens are already amongst us.

Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 8 years ago from California

Dude, six hundred years ago they were slapping caravels together with spit and some rope. We couldn't even fly a hundred and five years ago. Today we have a robot digging in the maritan ice. How can you possibly doubt that we'll get a "foothold out there?" A building, one of those water-for-gas kits stuck into an icy pole and voila, "Houston, we have a foothold."

The only possible way we don't get a foothold in space is if we stop trying, or blow ourselves up before we get it done.

CJStone profile image

CJStone 8 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

OK, a foothold. A Moon base maybe. Even a Mars base. But we won't get out of the solar system. That's my guess anyway.

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ColdWarBaby 8 years ago

This is an excellent Hub without doubt. People who cry about the expense of the space program without mentioning the trillions that are squandered on the American military conquest of the world kind of piss me off.

Exploration is a human survival trait. Without it we would still be living in trees and munching leaves and bugs. We spend enough money murdering innocent men, women and children in countries, the names of which we can't even say, around the world to fund dozens of programs that would be of BENEFIT to the human race. Just like the space program!

NateRider profile image

NateRider 8 years ago from Missouri

Without exploration, humanity would've died centuries, if not millenia, ago. Exploration, discovery, innovation, and adaption are all traits that keep the human race alive. Now that we've explored most of the surface of the world (not counting sub-surface exploration), the eye of the world did indeed turn to space. I've been fascinated with space exploration and discovery since a very young age. Everyone who says we should stop spending so much on these neccesary things, thinks humanity should just die out. Or, they're just not thinking everything through.

Great Hub, CJ!

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Jonno.Norton 8 years ago

When are we finally going to get a moon base dammit!? It's so close to us, we've been there, I'm sure we could figure out some kind of technology to creat air around it. I just don't think it should be that hard if we really put the right minds to it.

Nice hub!

CJStone profile image

CJStone 8 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

Hello Jonno, hello NateRider, you know I'm really glad to see people reading this hub. It kind of got passed over because I put something up about Karma so I could get to 20 hubs and become an "expert", but this was always my favourite, a subject close to my heart. Glad you both agree.

sukritha profile image

sukritha 8 years ago from Cochin

Hi C.J thanks for the comment on my hub and this hub in relation with SPACE really informative.


bulletproofchris profile image

bulletproofchris 6 years ago from hutchinson, ks

my goodness! it took me a while to find this hub, but I am so glad I did...this was right on, and the quotes by the astronauts were deeply felt on my end. I definitely agree with what you've stated here, and look forward to reading more of your hubs.

CJStone profile image

CJStone 6 years ago from Whitstable, UK Author

hello bulletproofchris, I'm glad you found this hub. It was always one of my favourites and one of the few actually written for hubpages. I recommend the film too.

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