By David Glenn Cox
It was said that when Julius Caesar came to Rome it was a city of bricks and when he left it was a city of marble. Likewise, when John Kennedy came to Washington it was a city of clay tablets and papyrus scrolls. With fifteen minutes of accrued space travel experience, John Kennedy goes before Congress and says, “you know what? We should really go to the moon. We should do it in ten years and hell yeah, it’s gonna be expensive.” It was an offshoot of the Cold War, but it also illustrates the accidental benevolence of forward thinking. John Kennedy died in 1963 never having seen a pocket calculator. Computers were kept in university warehouses and were called “electronic brains.”
It gives pause the parochialism, “electronic brain!” Look out! The electronic brain is going to get you. An inhuman device thinking about things! Straight out of a Science Fiction movie, it has thought but it is not human! (Cue scarry music.) The largest intellectual research project ever funded in human history. Spending twenty or so billion dollars on a literal flight of fancy to the moon. The first thing you need is a rocket but if that rocket doesn’t have a computerized guidance system, you might as well try taking the bus. So, the first moon related contract NASA let out was for the Apollo guidance computer.
The Saturn Five rockets first stage poured tens of thousands of gallons of fuel per minute lifting the 6.2-ton rocket to supersonic speeds. As the fuel leaves the booster the center of gravity changes every second. Get out your slide ruler and figure out just how much you’ll need to gimble those five engines to keep that huge rocket on course. Now do it every 15 seconds.
A problem of pure logistics, computers were huge, and rockets were small. How do we turn a 1960 El dorado Cadillac into a rocket powered Ferrari that fits into a bread box? How often we hear that our cell phones have more computing power than the Apollo Command module. The Apollo Command module computer was more powerful than all the cellphones in existence in 1969 put together. It’s almost like saying, “I’ve read better books than the Gutenberg Bible.” This is where it all came from this is the beginning, this is the big bang.
Kennedy and the people around him had no idea; nobody did. We were looking for an easier route to India and wound up in North America instead. If you wanted to design an airplane or balance the family budget, you got out a pencil and a piece of paper or your “slide ruler.” My dad tried middling hard to teach me to read a slide ruler, but I drowned in the simplistic complication of the damn thing. Rome would have been a city of log cabins if the math had been left up to me. Ten years to reach a hypothetical goal and the offshoot of the machines we built to accomplish that goal revolutionized life on Earth in a way never, ever seen since the creation of the wheel or the domestication of dogs.
One hundred years ago throwing an AM carrier wave was a big deal. “I have taken my sharp stick and attached a sharp piece of flint to the end of it! I’ll show those mastodons who’s boss!” Scientists were unlocking the secrets of radar! And there was talk, mind you only talk, of a radio signal with a picture signal attached. How far we have traveled in such a short time. Everything in your life today is powered by computers. We wouldn’t know just how fucked our environment was if not for computers. If you showed George Washington your cell phone, he would run from you in terror, declaring you a tool of the devil.
The accumulated knowledge of mankind with advertisements and Angry Birds. And now the world is facing a computer chip crisis. From a device never heard of to a building block of presidential attention, the demand for chips is insatiable. The fast-rising electric car segment is soaking up them up like a Freshman at a keg party. From apes throwing bones at obelisks where is Arthur C. Clark when you need him? From a caveman with a wooden club to a wafer the size of your thumbnail able to do thousands of calculations a second. Remember the episode of Star Trek with the Aliens that had developed the multi-colored pulsating brains but had lost the ability to move? Living on a chemical slurry of McDonalds, Budweiser beer, pro sports and pornography. The innocent naive version of the future. Jules Verne presents, “From Earth to Moon.” Yeah, like that.
I suppose a backlash to technology would only be normal. The Amish shying away from the lightbulb or in an age of science, not believing science. “I’ll build an Ark theme park. Nothing will show the legitimacy of my religious beliefs like the fallacy of their engineering,” Okay, the sun is a sphere. The moon is a sphere and Mars is a sphere too or are you trying to tell me this is a two-dimensional universe? Tell me again why you believe the Earth to be flat. If, as you say the moon landings were faked, where did all this technology come from? Did the heavens suddenly open, and the lord cried out. “Let there be cellphones!” Let there be MRI technology to save your life it wasn’t done by magic…it was done by dollars.
Werner Von Braun being Warner Von Braun, first proposed to NASA his plans for going to Mars, the day after the first moon landing. Warner knew the more you learn the more you know. The more you know the more you benefit. The longer you wait the more it will cost. Landing on the moon has been reduced in significance to the Wright Brothers at Kittyhawk. It doesn’t matter how far you fly, if you get an airplane out of the deal.
“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”
― John F. Kennedy
Because that is where the future lives and where the answers are to be found. Only twelve men landed on the moon, but we all benefitted.