In 10,000 years that garbage you’re taking out today after the little woman nags you about it long enough will become priceless artifacts. Future archaeologists will puzzle over that broken coffee mug with the picture of a naked woman on it and wonder if she was some kind of goddess or perhaps a representation of your wife.
Maybe you should leave a note.
It won’t matter because the paper your note is written on won’t survive. Nor will 50% of the rest of our bio-degradable garbage which will leave a lot of real nasty stuff those future scientists will have to go through in order to extract a few nuggets of history that will tell future humans all about us.
In 10,000 years, no one will remember Nancy Pelosi. No one will remember George Bush either. They may rate a line or two in some obscure scholar’s dissertation on primitive nation-state politics but I doubt it. History will lose track of them as she forgets so many others. Clio is really quite selective about what people and events are clasped to her bosom and carried through the centuries to be examined and debated by those in the future whose calling is to explain the past to their contemporaries.
The millions of words spoken and written in anger or passion or to persuade others over Iraq these last years will have completely disappeared, are already disappearing as the relentless march of time burns away all but the most influential or seminal of events and people. What’s left is in turn ground to powder and the remainder sifted through the ages until the essence of an entire century or more will be distilled for consumption.
This doesn’t make what’s happening today any less important. But it does give us a sobering perspective on how, in the long, tangled skein of people, events, and ideas that make up the history of the last 100 years – the wars, the ideology, the clashes of civilization and wills, – almost all of it will be seen as nothing more than sound and fury signifying nothing if it is remembered at all.
Except for the moon landing, of course.
You can’t find much in newspapers or on the news nets about the 38th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the moon which was actually yesterday, July 20th (The moonwalk occurred early on the 21st.). Bloggers desperate for something to write about contributed more than a thousand posts to the historical discussion with an unknown number reminding everyone that the landing was a hoax, that all the moon footage was shot on a Hollywood backlot.
I have no doubt that for the foreseeable future, this kind of ho-hum reaction will greet subsequent anniversaries marking the achievement of Apollo 11. It isn’t that the event has lost its importance as much as its distance in time allows for a diminishing in the importance of the actual memory of the occasion. So much has happened between then and now that even though the moon landing may be the only thing remembered about the times in which we live 10,000 years hence, Apollo 11 today has a lot of competition when it comes to available space in our brains for recalling the past.
Then there are those who don’t see what all the fuss is about, that the accomplishment was a waste of resources that could have been better spent or not spent at all. From a purely rationalist point of view, there may be something to that argument – especially given the fact that NASA failed miserably in following up on its achievement in landing on the moon to go on to bigger and better things. No permanent space station – unless you include that over priced, over sold, under performing piece of space junk called the “International Space Station” we have orbiting now.
No trip to Mars. Not even a trip back to the moon to set up some kind of base of operations for future exploration. Only a fairly dangerous, earth orbit bound space truck called the Shuttle whose life has been extended because the NASA bureaucracy can’t figure out how to dream big dreams anymore. Apparently, there is no manual or position paper on how to capture the essential hunger felt by most people for human exploration of the universe to be found in any of the offices of NASA’s top bureaucrats.
A pity. Their predecessors who cooked up the Apollo program in response to a challenge from our ideological opponents in the old Soviet Union were, if nothing else, dreamers. They were also inveterate gamblers. There may never have been nor will there ever be any project undertaken so fraught with danger and risk for the participants as the Apollo program.
Think of it. In 1962 when the program was just getting underway, America had put exactly 3 men into space, only one of them into earth orbit. By making the decision to land on the moon and return safely by the end of the decade, NASA had its work cut out for it. Not only new technologies would have to be developed but entire industries would have to be created in order to meet Kennedy’s ambitious goal. There has never been an effort in peacetime like it in history. More than $24 billion would be spent (about $120 billion in today’s dollars) to make that dream a reality.
Nearly 500,000 human beings would lay their hands on at least one of the millions of parts that made up the Apollo 11 spacecraft. This dwarfs the number of people who worked on the Manhattan Project to build the A-Bomb, the Panama Canal, and the Pyramids put together. A study done in 1972 revealed that more than 25% of all the man hours worked on the project were in the form of unpaid overtime. This is because by 1968, after the fire of Apollo 1 that killed 3 astronauts along with subsequent delays in the delivery of the Lunar Module (LM), Congress was threatening to cut the program off at the knees.
In effect, NASA was launching a 37 story building, aiming it at a moving target orbiting the earth at more than 2200 miles per hour, 240,000 miles away with a spacecraft travelling more than 19,000 MPH. Some engineers in the early days of Apollo privately believed that the feat would be impossible, that the astronauts were doomed. The technical challenges were enormous. The Saturn V booster would have to generate more than 7,000,000 pounds of thrust to get the behemoth off the ground. The Lunar Lander, the first vehicle designed to be used exclusively in space, was the size of a mini-van and contained two stages.
The second stage was supposed to lift the astronauts off the surface when they were ready to leave and on Apollo 11, it had never been tested in space before. If it failed to work, there was no back up, no rescue plan. President Nixon was told that given all the uncertainties, there was a one in five chance that the astronauts would be left stranded on the moon unable to return (Neil Armstrong gave himself a 50-50 chance of coming home). He even had Bill Safire write a speech in case the mission failed.
Why should this date in history lose its significance as the years pass? There has never been an achievement in the history of mankind that summed up all that is good and noble in the human soul as Apollo 11. Yes the reasons for going to the moon may have been petty and selfish. But the achievement itself represents the best of what we are – thinking, rational animals with an insatiable curiosity of what is beyond the next horizon. NASA may have forgotten this. But the dream itself is alive and well thanks to a small group of outriders on the very frontiers of science who have started their own private space ventures. In the next decade, the novelty of space tourism will dominate this industry. But eventually, the drive for profit will send people hurtling into the void to exploit the resources and raw materials found on other heavenly bodies in our solar system.
Like NASA of the 1960’s, their reasons may be selfish and petty. But the very act of exploration will once again confirm the fact that regardless of politics or economics, the destiny of man is out there somewhere and everywhere in the universe. And it won’t be the ossified bureaucrats in governments who will lead this quest. It will be the dreamers and the risk takers whose own small steps will turn into giant leaps for all of us in the not too distant future.