Last Trip to the Moon

SUBHEAD: I went to see first moon landing launch in 1969. The last such launch was in 1972. I doubt we'll ever get back.  

By Juan Wilson on 10 May 2011 for Island Breath - 

Image above: Last trip to the Moon - Apollo 17 on 7 December 1972 - a night shot. From (

When I began to study architecture, in the mid 1960's, I was a what might be called a techno-optimist. I believed then that architecture could solve social problems.

I believed that the development of technology was naturally good... that science was a widely accepted route to the truth and that the 'Peaceful Atom' would conquer the world. I was naive.

Those days were filled with a sense of opportunity and potential. The United States was well on the way to land us on the Moon in 1969. And so we did.

Of course it took burning a tank of liquid hydrogen as big and tall aa a forty-story building in just a couple of minutes just to get the necessary thrust. That success was quite a boost to our faith in technology.

NASA's plan then was to be on Mars by 1999. And we believed it. Back then the Soviet Union was making real progress on sustained fusion with tokamak technology (a ring shaped magnetic bottle) that would provide unlimited energy by using deuterium and tritium isotopes of hydrogen, naturally found in seawater.

The hydrogen would be crushed to a point where it would fuse into helium (at a temperature hotter than the sun) to produce a useful fuel.  

The Bulleten of Atomic Scientists wrote in 1970 of the potential of a sustained fusion reaction was such that a gallon of seawater could produce the energy equal 300 gallons of gasoline. Safe and unlimited free energy was just around the corner.

Moreover, the Green Revolution in food production was well under way and the world would not starve. That year, 1970, was the Peak Oil date for American production of our own petrochemicals. Of course we didn't know that then. We were focused elsewhere.

Many of us were affected by an emerging alternative culture fueled by several factors - the civil rights movement; opposition to our protracted war in southeast Asia; psychedelic drugs and the associated art/culture; a rejection of consumerism/commercialism and corporatism. Unfortunately, that alternative culture proved flimsy and exploitable.

Hell - elected Richard Nixon. Within just a couple of years we found we had lost our taste for the space program. December 7th 1972 was the launch of our last trip to the Moon. Even bringing asome clubs and a golf cart up there didn't keep us awake. "Boooring!"

We never could get that fusion thing going. Soon hippie sandals turned into Earth Shoes, listening basement tapes turned into mellifluous tunes on album-oriented FM stations. We got comfy.

When the first whiff of collapse came it was a surprise. OPEC cut off all oil to the West in December of 1973. This was for political and economic reasons, but it demonstrated that they had the oil and we didn't. People got shot for cutting ahead in gas station lines.

We got stagflation - no jobs, high prices. By spring 1975 I found myself in Tehran laying out golf courses and industrial parks for the Shah of Iran. By the time I got back to the states it was time for Jimmy Carter.

That moment between Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan was the only time I remember a US President pointing honestly to America's future. Carter had bought into The Club of Rome Report.
In 1972 the campaigning of this growing group of like-minded individuals gained a new worldwide reputation with the first report to the Club of Rome: "The Limits to Growth", commissioned by the Club from a group of systems scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The Report explored a number of scenarios and stressed the choices open to society to reconcile sustainable progress within environmental constraints. The international effects of this publication in the fields of politics, economics and science are best described as a 'Big Bang': over night, the Club of Rome had demonstrated the contradiction of unlimited and unrestrained growth in material consumption in a world of clearly finite resources and had brought the issue to the top of the global agenda. - (
Jimmy Carter acted on the report when he became president. He lowered interstate speeds to 55 mph; he put on a sweater and asked Americans to turn down their thermostats; he put solar panels on the roof of the Whitehouse.

The response. "Boooring!" as well as "Negatory!" No president has had the nerve to tell the truth since. We were ready for "Morning In America" with Ronald Reagan and the bright light of American Exceptionalism.
"Hey, where's that Mr. Cold Fusion?"
But the reality was (and is) there is no substitute for crude oil. Bill Clinton kind of put a velvet glove on it, but it has basically been the same for more than a generation. We want your oil! We take your oil! We burn your oil! Ha! Ha! Ha! Some thought the twelve year nightmare of Bush Oil Inc. was over when we elected Barrak Obama.

The world was crashing and he would save us. His election only signalled Peak Everything had arrived and we were about to take the ride of a lifetime down the backside of history. Were we told the truth? Were we asked to sacrifice? Were we shown a plan? No! We got a lot of Green Smoke up our skirts.
  • We were told to stay tuned to Fox and be ready to switch over to a Chevy Volt, Ford Fusion, Toyota Prius or Nissan Leaf when the time comes.
  • Hey, don't worry about food - Montsanto, ADM, Tyson, Armour, Cargill, Nestle, Frito-Lay, Pepsico and McDonald's gotcha covered.
  • No need to fret over retail business in your town - Best Buy, Walmart, Target, Home Depot, Costco, and K-Mart are there for you.
  • As long as the fridge is full and cable TV is on you should be good.
I believe that is about as far as a plan for America's future has gotten. We are numb. We are wary of change. We'll ignore a lot of bad things to keep things just the way they are.

We're willing to destroy the Gulf of Mexico for deep water oil, scrape the top off the mountains of Appalachia for coal; destroy the drinking water of the Mid-Atlantic states to frack natural gas; turn Canada upside down for its tar sand. What aren't we willing to do to be comfy? Give up a kilowatt?

 What I've come to realize is that humans have a unique trick that other species don't share on this planet. In a way we are a one-trick-pony. We burn stuff.

Once we figured that out we began elaborating on the theme - whether it's wood or plutonium we like a fire. It's our not so secret ingredient to success... and failure. We have gotten so good at burning stuff that we have kind of set fire to the climate of the planet. Oops.

If you want to solve the problems of this world - and if your solution requires first burning more stuff - Then you're probably on the wrong track. The most general solution is to stop burning stuff! Ask others to do the same.

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: First Trip to the Moon 9/21/94

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