On the Death of Space Exploration

Ayn Rand spoke eloquently, in the 1960s, of mankind's visit to the moon. What would she say today of our "retreat"? Though she's not here to say, another writer has taken up the cause.

This month marks the 40th anniversary of the first landing on the moon.

Ayn Rand was on hand to celebrate that history-making achievement.

On July 16, 1969, after having concluded a tour of Cape Kennedy’s Space Center the day before, Ms. Rand — an honored guest of NASA — witnessed the launching of Apollo 11.

Two months later, in a fifteen-page article (“Apollo 11,” The Objectivist, September 1969), Rand described in some detail to her readers (as well as to a rapt audience of her personal friends at my apartment in Manhattan) just how meaningful were those breathtaking seven minutes from countdown to liftoff.

I have always thought of her description of that launch — written and oral — as “beyond eloquence”:

“[T]his spectacle was not the product of inanimate nature...” she wrote. “[N]or of chance, nor of luck.... [I]t was unmistakably human — with ‘human,’ for once, meaning grandeur.... For once, if only for seven minutes, the worst among those who saw it had to feel — not ‘How small is man by the side of the Grand Canyon!’ — but ‘How great is man and how safe is nature when he conquers it!’” (emphasis Rand’s).

Ayn Rand would have welcomed columnist Charles Krauthammer as a spokesman — a spiritual comrade-in-arms, one might say — on the matter of space exploration. In his recent July 17 column, “The Moon We Forgot,” Krauthammer bemoans what he describes as America’s retreat from space:

“After countless millennia of gazing and dreaming, we finally got off the ground at Kitty Hawk in 1903. Within 65 years, a nanosecond in human history, we’d landed on the moon. Then five more landings, 10 more moonwalkers, and, in the decades since, nothing.... America’s manned space program is in shambles. Fourteen months from today, for the first time since 1962, the U.S. will be incapable not just of sending a man to the moon but of sending anyone into Earth orbit. We’ll be totally grounded.”

And Ayn Rand would have relished Krauthammer’s telling rhetorical question:

“So what, you say? Don’t we have problems here on Earth? Oh please. Poverty and disease and social ills will always be with us. If we’d waited for them to be rectified before venturing out, we’d still be living in caves.”

Not surprisingly, Ayn Rand had anticipated such negative fallout would follow in the wake of the Apollo launch. She wrote derisively about the sort of people who can always be counted upon to lobby for a “better” use for our money — such as fighting a war on poverty. She knew better.

So does Charles Krauthammer. Raising the question of why a manned space program is important, he says emphatically, “It’s not for practicality. We didn’t go to the moon to spin off cooling suits and freeze-dried fruit. Any technological return is a bonus, not a reason. We go for the wonder and glory of it. Or, to put it less grandly, for its immense possibilities.”

When Rand expressed hope that the flight of Apollo 11 would be “...the first achievement of a new age ... not a glorious last,” she got her wish — for a time, that is: those five more landings and ten more moonwalkers. And while she knew all too well the pitfalls of this country’s “mixed economy,” she wrote — with, arguably, a touch of defiance—that “...[I]f the United States is to commit suicide ... let some of its life blood go to the support of achievement and the progress of science....” (“Apollo 11,” The Objectivist, September 1969). Sadly, this was not to be.

Krauthammer aptly describes what has been stripped from our lives:

“We are now deep into that hyper-terrestrial phase, the age of iPod and Facebook, of social networking and eco-consciousness.... But look up from your Blackberry one night. That is the moon. On it are exactly 12 sets of human footprints — untouched, unchanged, abandoned. For the first time in history,” he notes, “the moon is not just a mystery and a muse but a nightly rebuke. We came, we saw, we retreated.”

And when he wonders aloud, “How could we?” Charles Krauthammer speaks not only for those of us who never lost our sense of adventure and magic, our sense of wonder.

He speaks for Ayn Rand.

Erika Holzer’s vigilante suspense thriller Eye for an Eye was a Paramount feature film directed by John Schlesinger and starring Kiefer Sutherland and Sally Field. For more about her other books, fiction and non-fiction, and her most recent book, Ayn Rand: My Fiction-Writing Teacher, see www.ErikaHolzer.com.

15 comments from readers  

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Tas D
0 points
I can only hope that by now, Rand would have gotten over the initial giddiness of man's first ventures into space and come to realize that the forcible confiscation of wealth from a minority of individuals in order to pay for the pet projects of others is abhorrent. Privately funded ventures would be another matter completely, but I can see no glory in our current space program, which is funded by taxing and borrowing, and exists primarily to line the pockets of a few, and pump up the egos of others.
Utterly embarassing.

This is the lowest rating I've given an Atlasphere column. For defenders of individual liberty and freedom to champion a cause funded by plunder (taxes), is at best a serious lapse in judgment, and at worst the sin of being hypocritical, above one's own morality.

Reminds me of Russian Communist bosses riding in Mercedes limos, while the "equal" folks rode in the Russian deathtraps. Or Barbra Streisand telling everyone else to dry their clothes on a line. Or Obama taking $50,000 overnight trips to NYC while proclaiming we have to tighten our belts.

And it reminds me of Rand, champion of the individual and scourge of collectivist thinking, referring to all 'Southerners' as racists.

If we want to claim the moral high ground and if we really understand how free market economics works, we have some cleaning up to do in our own backyard...
â??...[I]f the United States is to commit suicide ... let some of its life blood go to the support of achievement and the progress of science....â?

Hardly a glowing endorsement of government space programs and I sincerely doubt that Rand would have anything to do with a "God and National Glory" collectivist like Krauthammer.
Looking away from our earth seems still like a splendid endeavor (no pun intended). My late husband was there with Ayn Rand (although he didn't know it), developing the simulator for Apollo 11 at Cape Canaveral. Only this work could allow him to go beyond his normal limits and achieve great things. Otherwise, he was just a real-time programmer. Hurray for Erika Holzer and her column.
Interesting. Better yet are all the privately funded space programs. Hopefully they will be able to continue to grow in spite of the new communist/socialist administration
I can't help but wonder if Ayn Rand would have a different spin on this knowing more about the circumstances.

The moon shots were awesome and, if the government is going to spend my stolen money, space exploration would be my preferred project.
But, the space program was handled incorrectly and contrary to our constitution and principles of freedom. It was nothing more than another expensive government spectacle with a bit of saber-rattling. Costs be damned; payback be damned; It was a miracle that it actually worked as well as it did.

How should we have gotten into space and to the moon? Through the efforts of millions of hobbyists and the companies they formed. Such were responsible for all of the innovation in aviation before government all but outlawed private-sector aviation experiments. Imagine if someone like Burt Rutan didn't have to fight the FAA, EPA, DOD, FBI, and dozens of other agencies at every step. There were a lot of Burt Rutans. Some may have found jobs in the military-industrial complex but most were crushed out of existence.

If you want to go back to the moon, you need to:
Abolish the FAA, the EPA, OSHA, etc.
Reform tort laws to make awards rational,
Refactor "Homeland security" to target external threats, not US citizens.
Perhaps create "homestead" laws if you want government incentives.

Space exploration is dying because it is bureaucracy, instead of a private venture.

Chalk up another one for socialism!
Very well said Erika, you are obvious a practical and classy lady. The inexperienced myopiaâ??s may have a problem with your terminology and Ms. Randâ??s but the brighter in the group will get it.
Alas, the moon can never be terraformed, so that permanent settlement will never be possible. The same is true of Mars. Both have little or no atmosphere, so that anyone there is existing in the vacuum of space. They are prisoners in their space suits, since if they left them they would instantly explode. We're not even talking about the lack of Oxygen or water, two other insurmountable obstacles. Did anyone stop to think that we cannot gain any further significant knowledge, at least not at this time?
An excellent article in that it points out the loss of motivation and excitement of the space program. I am 46 so I grew up with the wonder of the space program. It was a constant glory to strive for as a boy. I loved science because of the ultimate goal which was space.

Even TV was influenced via Star Trek and such things. We all long for a world of human achievement and yet we are left wanting.

I am glad someone brought it up again and reminded us of the wonder and grandeur lost.
I am sadly disappointed by Erika Holzer and The Atlasphere site for a serious disservice to Americans.

Where is your reference to the privately owned, prize winning space flight project? Have you chosen to ignore and discard that sterling spirited endeavor of a few genuine Americans?

Do you remember the flimsy little craft that crossed the Atlantic Ocean nearly four hundred years ago? It wasn't a "government ship", and those aboard were not members of some "select elite". Rather, they were daring, self oriented, realistic individuals who were the original proto-Americans. They sailed from England to a new world on The Mayflower.

Though, I am only an "ABC American", an "American By Choice", two of those aboard that little ship were my ancestors. Their true objective was freedom from interference by others and freedom from dependency on others. Their project did not suffer from threats of cancellation for lack of government financing. They succeeded on their own, or died trying.

They were the seed that grew into today's America. What's more, they were the objectivists of their day.

Four centuries later there is still only one America; ONE!

And, this is one American who will willingly paddle a spaceship to the moon by hand if that is what it takes, and there will be shipmates in abundance. You may be sure that there are still real Americans to answer the call. We Americans are independent, but we are certainly not alone.

Erika Holzer and The Atlasphere, why would you ignore that tiny bit of scholarship that would make a lie of the claims of this great country's detractors?

The purpose of this letter is to help dress another wound sustained by America.

No hard feelings. This is just reality.
"Not for practicality"? "We go for the wonder and glory of it"?

1. There is a lot that mankind should be doing in space, but spending extorted tax dollars on feel-good missions of optional practicality so that the citizens can pretend we're "glorious" is NOT one of them. That kind of activity is more befitting of the Soviets or the Third Reich.

2. Let the government ground itself, and let industry and tourism step in as they see fit. Government should confine it's space roles to defense and filing non-terrestrial land-claims.

3. NOBODY can speak for Rand! And least of all, anyone who failed to see the obvious things that were just explained to you.
To my everlasting shame I didn't remember that there were 6 lunar landings and 12 moon walks. I remember the first 3 or 4 and like the rest of America lost interest for the last 3. Maybe it wasn't all our fault though - Didn't NASA lead us to believe that furthet moonwalks would continue and become routine?

Yes, Ayn Rand was correct - Man's achievement was astonishing but then NASA lost the plot and devoted all its efforts on the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station - Maybe someone can explain why its there, what it does and why we should care about it?
I've often wondered how Ayn would feel about government-sponsored space exploration. My assumption is that she would have abhorred it and would have instead been supportive of private efforts.

It is interesting to read Erika's editorial. I wonder what Ayn would say now.
Thank you for this article. I completely agree, and continue to be saddened. However, there are some advances being made which I think would make Ms. Rand very proud.

Virgin Galactic is taking steps to remove space flight from the reliance on government spending. Private sector space flight is, I believe, provides avenues to renew public interest and promote exploration. By bringing the possibility of experiencing space first-hand to the public, reinvigorated interest in exploration is soon to follow.
To post comments, please log in first. The Atlasphere is a social networking site for admirers of Ayn Rand's novels, most notably The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. In addition to our online magazine, we offer a member directory and a dating service. If you share our enjoyment of Ayn Rand's novels, please sign up or log in to post comments.