Can you imagine if more than 50 years after the global sensation of Charles Lindbergh’s Transatlantic flight if there were still no commercial airlines? Seems unthinkable, right?
It’s beyond perplexing that we haven’t established permanent colonies on the moon, that this “trade route” wasn’t opened in the wake of the successful Apollo missions of 1969-72. It must have seemed fait accompli during those bold days. On the night of the giant leap for mankind, Robert Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke could barely contain their wildest visions when interviewed live by Walter Cronkite and his cohorts. Sure, the cost involved in space flight dwarfs that of Earth-bound airport hopping, but it seemed to make too much sense to not happen, didn’t it?
Alas, it did not come to fruition. Sharing my disappointment is the excellent writer Brian Clegg, who’s penned an Aeon essay which explores why science fiction became so uncoupled from reality when it comes to “setting up house” on the moon. The opening:
One of the biggest thrills of my teenage life was being allowed to stay up all night to watch the Apollo 11 moon landing (the first time I’d ever spent a whole night without going to bed). And something was very clear to me, back then on that long 1969 night: I would be going to the moon too. Not soon, but before I died. I was realistic. I didn’t expect it to be soon, because I never saw myself as an astronaut. But I firmly expected that by the time this book was written and I was a very elderly person in my fifties, trips to the moon would be pretty much like flights across the Atlantic were in the 1960s. Still a very special experience, not for everyone by any means, but something that would be available to the general public as a safe, scheduled pleasure trip.
This seems very naïve now, but it really didn’t back in the heady days of 1969. I had read the science fiction. I knew that moon bases and lunar cities would inevitably follow that first, groundbreaking step of making a manned landing. Why not? It seemed an entirely logical progress. Think how much had been achieved in just the previous eight years. Imagine what would be possible in another 40 or 50 years. And yet the reality was so different. There were just six brief manned moon landings in the Apollo series, and then nothing. Not a single person has reached the moon for decades. There have been plenty of unmanned probes, but nothing has been done toward laying the ground for those lunar cities and for the regular, commercial moon flights I so eagerly anticipated. That glorious future has evaporated.
There’s something very strange and fascinating in the way that reality has deviated so far from science fiction – especially considering how deeply rooted the moon is in the human imagination.•
Tags: Brian Clegg