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.

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.