Monday, July 20, 2009

Apollo - The Education Benefit

Today is the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, and the first time a human sat foot on a body other than Earth.

When we count up the costs and benefits of the Apollo project, people tend to overlook the biggest benefit to come out of the Apollo program.


The Apollo program inspired hundreds of thousands of people to attend college and to pursue degrees in math, science, and engineering. For a period of time, being intelligent and seeking an education was 'cool'.

Very few of those scientists and engineers went into the space program. In fact, after Apollo, the space program underwent a series of drastic cuts that resulted in more hiring than firing. However, those scientists and engineers then became available for other projects. We are still sewing the benefits provided by researchers and builders that Apollo inspired.

It does, at times, seem as if the world operates as if on a pendulum. The celebration of knowledge and intelligence that marked the Apollo program gave way to a celebration of ignorance and stupidity during the first part of the 21st century. Yet, hopefully, this particular pendulum swing taught some important lessons. Hopefully, it has taught us how expensive ignorance and stupidity really are.

Look at how much ignorance and stupidity has cost us. There is even a chance that America will not recover from the damage that ignorance and stupidity has done to this country – that the national debt combined with the accelerating costs of the harm done by global warming plus more than six years of fighting (and spending money on) a war that did us more harm than good will be too much for the American economy to bear.

All of this damage brought to us by the fact that a lot of Americans decided to embrace stupidity and ignorance for eight years rather than value knowledge and intelligence.

The Bush administration itself has the potential of becoming a historic example of the claim, "If you think education is expensive, try ignorance."

Education is important. And the Apollo Program provided a significant boost to education. It showed the world, at least for a time, that there are opportunities and wonders that are available only to those who are smart enough to reach them, which inspired countless people to make themselves smart enough.

This must be counted as one of the most significant benefits of Apollo.

1 comment:

Michael Khan said...

I couldn't agree more. It is amazing how some people, even at NASA, focus just on some few actual spin-off products. The very real benefits are much more pervasive, as you say. One is, as you rightly pointed out, education. I should even capitalize the noun to stress its importance: Education.

Another is a general boost in technological know-how that put America firmly up front in a host of cutting-edge areas. In some of these, the USA are still leading.

The third is perhaps a more sentimental, intangible benefit at first glance, but the importance should not be underestimated. For one heady instant in time, probably for the first time in human history, the "us vs. them" view of the world took the back seat. Everyone was doing the same thing, everyone was ardently wishing three of their fellow human beings success in the the dangerous venture they had embarked on.

We need more Apollo programs.

I noted some of my ideas here: