Thursday, July 16, 2009

Apollo 11 and the Triumph of Liberalism

The Launch: July 16, 1969, 8:32 AM EDT

Some memories will always be with you, and for anyone who is "of an age" Apollo 11 has just GOT to be one of those memories. One thing that always bugged me about it though; Inspired by a speech given by John F. Kennedy and financed through the Lyndon Johnson administration, America's space program was as liberal as anything in America's history; tax and spend on a scale as massive as the Saturn V rocket itself. But it would be hard to argue that that spending didn't benefit US businesses, who responded with innovations as widespread as the microchip and Velcro™. Still, it's not Kennedy's signature or LBJ's that graces the commemorative plaque at Tranquility Base that will mark the event uncorroded for centuries, even millenia. No, it's Richard Nixon's. Nixon also took advantage of the event for his own political ends by staging a live telephone call to the moon which was broadcast live on all networks at the time -- this in spite of his government having slashed funding for space exploration and the Apollo program in particular. So yes, the Nixon plaque sticks in my craw.

Those Nixon cut-backs were done in such a ham-fisted manner that three flights already scheduled were cancelled. The Saturn booster rockets already built had to be abandoned. Today all three are on display in various locations. "One is located at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Texas while another is at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. A third Saturn V is on display at the United States Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville near the Marshall Space Flight Center." How ignominious that these machines destined to put Apollos 18, 19 and 20 on the moon ended up as giant rusting hulks where generations of birds now nest! How shameful for America that the reason that those flights were cancelled was so that Nixon could expand the bloody and useless Vietnam War and make secret incursions into Cambodia.

I didn't watch either the launch, nor the landing, nor the first moonwalk live on TV - my family was at the cottage that week. I listened live on the radio. I wouldn't be at all surprised if the DJ who spun the first platter of music after the news bulletin chose this song, the #2 hit of 1969:

CCR: Bad Moon Rising
There's another Nixon connection here.
[writer John] Fogerty claims it was written on the day Richard Nixon was elected to power in the States, and it reflects the sense of unease in the air and the portents of what was to follow.”
Triumph of liberalism? Maybe not, but for one glorious shining moment we showed what Big Government can do.

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