When I was a kid, I wanted to be an astronaut, of course. The Moon Landings were the greatest thing ever, and we had pictures books and plastic rockets and action figures of Apollo 11. Science fiction like the Star Wars trilogy and Battle Star Galatica were popular and space travel was right around the corner and Tang was our favorite brand of powdered sugar drink. When they put up the Space Shuttle, and said it was going just 400 miles or so out into orbit, not the 237,000 miles to the moon, it was a huge disappointment, but as we were told, we just didn’t have the “national will” anymore.
So in 1981, just 9 years after the last moon landing, MTV launched. MTV was the showcase for the new video technology and all the special effects that came with it. The first thing MTV aired was footage of the Apollo 11 moon landings, replacing the US flag with the MTV logo. Just video trickery. There obviously wasn’t really an MTV logo on the moon, but man did the special effects look cool. In the film era, you had to use front screen projection to do backdrops, on digital video, you just had the computer run an algorithm and voila, special effects more real than reality itself.
So that was it. Between 1968-1972, ‘Murka landed men on the moon four separate times where they planted flags, drove around in moon buggies, and even played golf. For the most part, the whole thing went off without a hitch. Apollo 13 – the unlucky one – had to abort mission, but the only deaths were on the ground. Sixteen guys in a tin can had rocketed from earth to the moon, landed, blasted the lander off the surface of the moon and went back into the ship, then flew all the way back to earth. Four times.
Then, Nixon had to resign and no one ever talked about going back to the moon. The Space Race was over. Now it was astronauts just circling in low orbit mugging for the camera, doing flips in the low gravity. I mean, it was still cool, no doubt. But it wasn’t playing golf on the moon or anything.
Well NASA says they can’t land people on the moon anymore. No one is even trying. It’s almost embarrassing to talk about it. It’s been 50 years, the technology has advanced unbelievably since then, but all we have left to show for it is some grainy black and white film, the originals all lost, and some really great color photographs. 50 years and we aren’t even discussing manned space flight anymore. Sure, there’s the Mars rover, which is super cool, but it’s just a robot. No humans have even been out of low earth orbit since the Nixon administration.