Op-Ed Contributor – One Giant Leap to Nowhere

Tom Wolfe (author of space program biography The Right Stuff (which incidentally was the movie I took my first-ever date to see back in 1983) ) describes how the Cold War derailed the grand adventure of space exploration. Shockingly, the decay started while the Apollo program was still underway.

[I]n October 1969, I began to wonder … I was in Florida, at Cape
Kennedy, the space program’s launching facility, aboard a NASA tour
bus. The bus’s Spielmeister was a tall-fair-and-handsome man in his
late 30s … and a real piece of lumber when it came to telling
tourists on a tour bus what they were looking at. He was so bad, I
couldn’t resist striking up a conversation at the end of the tour.

Sure
enough, it turned out he had not been put on Earth for this job. He was
an engineer who until recently had been a NASA heat-shield specialist.
A baffling wave of layoffs had begun, and his job was eliminated. It
was so bad he was lucky to have gotten this stand-up Spielmeister gig
on a tour bus. Neil Armstrong and his two crew mates, Buzz Aldrin and
Mike Collins, were still on their triumphal world tour … while back
home, NASA’s irreplaceable team of highly motivated space scientists —
irreplaceable! — there were no others! …anywhere! … You couldn’t
just run an ad saying, “Help Wanted: Experienced heat-shield expert”
… the irreplaceable team was breaking up, scattering in nobody knows
how many hopeless directions.

How could such a thing happen? In hindsight, the answer is obvious. NASA had neglected to recruit a corps of philosophers.