i watched a documentary about Apollo 11 last night, which is just a remarkable story. those three men had to overcome so many “insurmountable” problems – in one case, when one of the two that had been on the actual FREAKIN MOON got back into the ship, he saw a little bit of something on the floor. turned out to be a small corner of a control panel that held the switch to turn on the escape rocket. (first of all, imagine that there was ONE SWITCH to turn the thing on – no redundant computer back-ups, nothin’). there it was, snapped off while they were suiting up to go EVA and bounce around on the FREAKIN MOON. hmm, he says to himself, now what do i do? no one to help him, no engineer, no machine shop, just the one switch that had been snapped off. so the guy took out his ball point pen and discovered that if he jammed it into the place the switch had been at just the right time, there was a good chance the engine would fire (an engine that had failed back on earth something like 50% of the time). obviously, it worked, and everything turned out all right. but even as the guys on the aircraft carrier were watching the capsule dropping toward the ocean, they wondered if the chutes would deploy. nothing was certain – this was all completely new territory. apparently, not only was mission control running on computing power about the same as my daughters laptop, the computing power in the actual space craft was less than that of a cell phone.
all of this was untried, and had never been done before. even as it was proceeding, all those guys in the white short-sleeved shirts wondered if any of it would work. (the computer in the lunar lander got itself overloaded with telemetry data, and blasted off a “1202” alert. NO ONE IN MISSION CONTROL KNEW WHAT A 1202 ALERT WAS! there was one guy, some young 25 year old, who had seen this once before on a training mission, and had jotted down some notes about what to do.
needless to say, this was seat of the pants stuff. and all just because the president said we should do it – “not because it is easy, but because it is hard.” my first thought was that our current president, and ALL of his associates ought to listen to the words and examine the deeds of these leaders (real, actual LEADERS) from actually not so long ago. i would love to hear my president, and the leaders of not both parties but of the nation, charge us with the task of, within ten years, not just reducing carbon emissions by 20% but completely freeing ourselves from dependence on fossil fuel. we got from nothing, not even a drawing, to the moon and back in ten years, using slide rules and ball point pens. it is insane that we cannot – let me rephrase that – insane that we REFUSE to accept a challenge not only similar in scope, but upon which the future of our planet depends. we have the technology, we seem to have enough money lying around, why are we not doing this?
i know, i’m being naive. i know exactly why, and it is completely insane.