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LIVING IN THE AFTER MOON: Pitting government against science deters advancement

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I’m a child of Apollo. I was born in the year 8 P.M.—eight years “Pre-Moon” (long after the Revolutionary Army saved Wilmington’s airport from the British). On July 20 I’ll celebrate 50 years living in the A.M.—“After Moon” era. As a child of Apollo, I am enjoying “Chasing the Moon,” the “American Experience” documentary series about the Apollo program and historic moon landing.

At least now we humans date Neil Armstrong’s first moonwalk “July 20, 1969 A.D.” As a “Star Trek” fan, I wonder how the Vulcans or other fictional civilized races might split the epochs of human history. Would they be likely to use the birth of a mythical religious figure to split the human timeline into eras? Or are future history teachers, Vulcan and human, more likely to look at the flag Neil Armstrong planted in the Sea of Tranquility and say, “Humanity has two great cultural eras: the first Pre-Moon (P.M.), encompassing a million years of ignorance; and the second, After Moon (A.M.), when the flag of their home planet was planted. Species took one giant step out of ignorance and (fill in the blank).”

It is up in the air how long the After Moon era will last and what we’ll do to “fill in the blank.”

On day one of the After Moon era, when Armstrong took mankind’s one giant step out of ignorance, I had yet to set foot anywhere near Wilmington. I watched the moon landing on a small black-and-white TV with aluminum foil wrapped around the antennae from a third-floor summer apartment in Atlantic City, N.J. No microwave. No air conditioning. No cell phones. No Facebook. No Twitter. No internet. Few products of the rigorous process of space-age science existed.

It’s exciting and inspiring watching “Chasing the Moon,” and remembering we are capable of a level of collaboration between business, government and science that can solve many problems involved in getting to the moon. It’s also personally inspiring. To this day, when I’m stuck on a problem, I motivate myself with the simple thought, If we can put a man on the moon, then I can figure this out. (Usually it’s, “Where did I leave my keys?”)

It is helpful for me to remember I am a child of Apollo—offspring of people that figured things out. I’m also a nephew of a former NASA engineer—one of thousands and thousands of engineers that solved small problems and helped that journey along. I don’t know what Uncle Johnny did at NASA, but I know he was proud of his small role in space exploration.

It’s also bittersweet watching the crowds in “Chasing the Moon.” Millions of people at the time seemed to understand the gravity of the moment in history, and millions contributed to the project either through direct efforts like Uncle Johnny or through taxes. Neither NASA nor the U.S. Department of Defense works on a donations budget.

It’s been a tough few decades for children of Apollo, partly because the children of Reagan—our “government is the problem” brothers and sisters—have pitted government, business and science against each other for 40 years. Rather than model the collaboration of the Apollo program, they have sought to privatize just about everything but the U.S. Department of Defense (and even the DOD is contracting out more functions than imaginable). They defund any agency, including NASA, deemed to restrict business. They want to profit from products of science while impeding the rigorous process of science. And they deny conclusions of science when it comes to our changing climate or other matters that might restrict profit-seeking.

Maybe they’re right. Maybe when the real version of “Star Trek” airs in the year 300 After Moon, it will begin, “These are the voyages of the Walmart Ship Enterprise, our continuing mission, to exploit strange new worlds, to seek out new markets, to boldly build big-box stores and casinos throughout the galaxy.”

It just doesn’t have the same ring to it as “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

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