#111 December 1997
Section 18.104.22.168.111.of the Artemis Data Book
Twenty five years ago this December, we retreated from the Moon. The last three planned and budgeted Apollo Moon landing missions (18, 19, 20) were aborted - yes, that is the right word - post-conception termination. The knowledge we would have gained from three more sites (Aristarchus and Copernicus among them) may or may not have been critical to the picture of the Moon we then would have had.
But even such a briefly extended Apollo program still would have ended without a follow-up. That is so even though all major contractors had studies for follow-on missions including permanent outposts. The original driving force had been sated, i.e. besting the Russians after our embarrassment and shock over Sputnik.
The Apollo Science Program was almost an afterthought, an effort to justify Apollo in non military-industrial-political terms. It is a powerful lesson about the pitfalls of piggybacking. Once before,"Space" had piggybacked on national prestige (Von Braun's rocket development for Hitler). But it is a lesson largely unlearned, as most space interested people and the majority of activists still see the government as the only ticket purchaser.
There is inherent in this process, a deep pitfall: of its very nature the political process is structured to thwart the possibility of logically developed programs. Too many critical decisions are made for no other reason than political compromise. Further, any government program is forever subject to revision without cause, or to cancellation due to erosion of non-germane support. What happened with Apollo can and will most likely happen with any government space program, no matter how hard we fight for it, no matter how much oversight we exercise in its founding mandate.
We had avoided taking responsibility - we cannot hand responsibility over to those who are at best fellow travelers, and more often but temporary concubines of the political night. So in a sense, we who cheered every mission, we shared as much blame for the retreat as those who yawned in unthinking, unappreciative boredom.
We can regret the retreat from the Moon with the liftoff of the Apollo 17 lunar ascent module, we can regret the political and media blindness but we must get beyond our collective state of denial, denial that we had deceived ourselves that it could ever have been otherwise, or that we could make it otherwise if we got the government to give us/our dreams a second chance.
So the black arm bands of protest, while expressive of our deep and abiding disappointment would serve no more purpose than creation of a fleeting blip-rise in public support. Wearing them would only serve to entrench our self-deceit in thinking that there is some way to get the government to do for us what in the end can neither be done right, nor at all, unless we do it ourselves - yes, we the people who would go, we to whom the human breakout from Cradle Earth is of utmost importance.
We've talked before about the difference between explorers and settlers and businessmen. It is those satisfied with exploration that will accept any ticket, even one with self-defeating strings. The rest of us, those who would truly pioneer, need to look for foundations not made of political sand.
This anniversary is indeed an occasion for sadness. But we waste it as a motivational opportunity if the sadness we feel is directed at the shortcomings of the government and/or the media. On the contrary, the sadness that should fill us, if not tear at us, should come from a recognition of our own failure to act in a way that accomplishes something.
There is a silver lining. Slowly, the appearance of successive waves of "commercial" space legislation is breaking the government's priestly hold on space, a hold that has worked to confine the general population into a pathetically impotent bunch of voyeurs, content to watch chosen proxies put timid toes into the waters of space.
Grass roots efforts, like Lunar Prospector, have gone through cycles of death and resurrection, to finally get their chance to make a critical difference. Other efforts are on the horizon. Listen not to the naysayers who have never accomplished anything. Some of these efforts will fail. But hopefully some will succeed.
Contents of this issue of Moon Miners' Manifesto