Ron Rosenbaum, Writer

July 21, 2009

Moonwalk Reflections: Science Fiction Ruined Space Travel

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 4:33 am

At least for me. By the time Neil Armstrong mangled his lame prepared statement (As you all know it should have been “one small step for A man…” not “…for man”–otherwise it’s a redundancy), a moon voyage it wasn’t a “giant leap” for mankind anyway. Not if, like me and many others you’d read all of science fiction by then, a pre adolescent boy’s habit.

We’d already been to the stars, explored Isaac Asimov and Poul Anderson and A.E. Van Vogt’s galactic federations. We’d been to the moons of hundreds of planets. Guy walks on this moon? Big deal. About as thrilling as a trip to Costco after the wonders of sci fi warp-sped the imagination to the farthest nebulae in the furthest future. Trip to Mars? Been there, done that. (Of course I stopped reading sci-fi after puberty. Wonder why?)

Star Wars and Star Trek just put nails in the NASA coffin. (I’m no Trekie but mention is obligatory. I’ll take Galaxy Quest over any Star Trek anytime. Get it from Netflix and see why).

I actually went down to the Cape to report on the first shuttle launch and couldn’t have been more bored for the most part. I think that a large segment of the nation felt that way. Like the launch of an advanced garbage skow mainly used to do junior high science-fair projects in low gravity.

It’s so annoying to hear all the gung ho, rah-rah, “we need to get back into space again” hype. Our imaginaton and impatience made exploration of frozen gasball planets a big bore. Don’t waste the billions and trillions. Use the money to subsidize a new generation of sci fi writers. Or physicists who can answer the truly interesting questions about the universe: what happpened before the Big Bang and (related) why is there Something rather than Nothing in the universe? Why is there a universe in the first place? No tin can rocket is gonna help us with that.



  1. I could no disagree with this more and I suggest that you view Neil Armstrong’s brilliant speech (CSPAN) at the Smithsonian on Sunday in which he argued, quite creatively, that that the space race ended the Cold War peacefully. At the same time, his exegesis of the passage in his own lifetime from Robert Goddard’s backyard liquid rockets through the Nazi’s V-2 labs, to Soviet throwweights, then Tranquility Base was Vonnegut like in its wry eloquence, what Armstrong characterized as the ridiculous blips of history. Neither Ron nor I have ever written anything as good and the speech establishes Armstrong as a Zenmate worthy of Alan Watts.

    Comment by charlie finch — July 21, 2009 @ 8:19 am | Reply

  2. Brilliant. Really Neill Armstrong’s statement has to be number 1 in important Freudian slips. He spoke the truth when he said, ‘One small step for man..’ We were all trying for ‘space adventure’ excitement, then Neill told the truth, and we knew irrevocably we were bored as hell.

    Comment by Michael — July 21, 2009 @ 10:29 am | Reply

  3. Some of us lose our innocence with puberty, Ron. You seem to have lost your imagination. Maybe if instead of spending all your time reading, you flew a kite or gassed up a model airplane once in a while when you were a kid, the sight and sound of massive boosters igniting would ignite your mind.

    Did you never fly a kite, Ron? Roll wooden matcheads into tinfoil cylinders and shoot them across the schoolyard? Put cherry bombs in ash-cans and watch them blow the lid off? Do experiments in cryogenics by hiding insects in mom’s freezer and reviving them on the stovetop? Or were you too busy reading?

    So tell a guy who has always wanted to watch a launch firsthand what exactly disappointed your overprivileged and undeserving self on that first shuttle launch you witnessed. Didn’t have an Elmore Leonard novel to read while you waited for the countdown? Would it have been more exciting if NASA provided juicy details of “poisonous jealousy and intimate male bonding” between the astronauts aboard? Space travel without a buddy angle not do it for you?

    To hear you tell it, astronauts and liquid droplets floating weightless in space are ho-hum. Been there, done that last year sitting on the same couch flipping channels on the same TV. Likewise man-made vehicles whipping around distant planets, using their gravitational fields for acceleration. Or little robots scurrying around mars, collecting and testing samples under the control of men sitting behind computers millions of miles and several years of high-speed space-travel away. Merely “junior high science-fair projects in low gravity.” Yawn.

    I like Elmore Leonard, too, Ron. And Westlake, and Condon and Hiassen and Shames and a bunch of others who specialize in crime and especially comic-crime novels. But there’s a difference between life and art—if beer and peanuts lit may be called art. And there’s a difference between doing and passively criticizing from an over-entertained and burned-out POV.

    I read and liked your stuff before there was an internet and a blogosphere, Ron You used to be an interesting guy with a lively curiosity. What happened?

    Comment by david levavi — July 21, 2009 @ 12:25 pm | Reply

  4. I wanted to post it on my facebook page, but there is the scientology ad in the top right corner, with clouds parting, nukes exploding and the new dawn. It puts your masterful argument in such an ironic context, I just couldn’t. “What is the Answer?” Boo-hoo, scientology is not. But the single second before the Big Bang might be.

    Comment by michalwnuk — July 22, 2009 @ 7:11 am | Reply

  5. One of the ironies of our technological society is that most of the time things are done so well the effort needed to create something is quickly assumed to have been trivial, pre-ordained or inevitable. We take so much for granted it’s shameful, as if there is an expectation of perfection without the understanding of what it takes.

    An example I used on my children: Think how many things have to happen, how many people have to do their jobs properly, to get bananas from where they grow to a store in the USA. Practically every store in the US carries fresh bananas, a perishable, somewhat delicate foodstuff that doesn’t grow within 1000 miles of anywhere in the continental US, and yet there they are, 365 days of the year, in every store, at $0.79/lb.

    Even mundane things take small miracles every day. Ron you are jaded. Go spend a weekend in the woods away from all technology. You will discover that hot running water is a true high point of civilization. But I do agree on you assessment on “GalaxyQuest”.

    Comment by pharmaguy — July 22, 2009 @ 10:45 pm | Reply

  6. I seem to remember a few years ago that NASA determined there was a 1/10th of a second gap in Armstrong’s transmission between “one small step for” and “man,” which is where he probably DID say “a”…

    Comment by Andrew — July 23, 2009 @ 4:33 am | Reply

  7. I remembered hearing this on the BBC in 2006:

    But new analysis of the tapes has proved Mr Armstrong right after all.

    Computer programmer Peter Shann Ford used audio analysis software to show that the missing “a” was blotted out by transmission static.

    Comment by Ace — July 23, 2009 @ 8:30 am | Reply

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