We Were Young and Headed to the Stars

It’s hard for modern young people to understand what it was like to grow up as a scientifically minded child in the 1960s. It was a special time that has, sadly, passed.

Each week there was a new step toward the stars. And this was not science fiction, this was reality.

Satellites had never existed in all the long history of mankind, but we saw them going up – and functioning – one after another.

As the Gemini program moved forward, we saw men living in space for more and more days at a time; they learned to rendezvous, and they even left their capsule and “walked in space.”


And then we geared-up for a trip to the moon… and succeeded!


Why wouldn’t a young person believe humanity was on its way to the stars? Humanity WAS on its way to the stars!

And on top of that, we had Star Trek. Remember that while Star Trek was clearly fiction, it was easy to see it as just a few steps ahead of us. And Star Trek was all about morality tales. We looked forward not only to an interesting future, but a good one, where we all became better.

And again, this was not at all unreasonable – we were taking clear steps toward it day by day. This was REAL.

And Then…

And then, it all stopped. Skylab and the shuttle were steps backward, useful mostly for saving face. Humanity stopped progressing and pulled back from the stars. If any of us still need a reason to judge government as unworthy of our time and treasure, here it is.

Since space was closed, we’ve endured boring, washed-out decades, focused on anything but the awe-inspiring, the good, and the heroic. Four decades were stripped of the greatest excitement, discovery, and growth that have ever been possible to our species.

Our current decade features no goals save bodily comfort and no aspirations save existence and status. Underlying it all is a palette of manufactured fears that can only be salved by buying the right products or electing the right politicians. We are living though the triumph of manipulation and the disappearance of vigorous individuals.

To show you what we’ve all missed, here are just a few quotes from men who actually walked on the moon:

It was to me like I was just sitting on a rocking chair on a Friday evening, looking back home, sitting on God’s front porch, looking back at the Earth; looking back home. It was really that simple, but it was an overpowering experience.
– Gene Cernan, Apollo 17

On the return trip home, gazing through 240,000 miles of space toward the stars and the planet from which I had come, I suddenly experienced the universe as intelligent, loving, harmonious… My view of our planet was a glimpse of divinity… We went to the moon as technicians, we returned as humanitarians.
– Edgar Mitchell, Apollo 14

Since that time I have not complained about the weather one single time. I’m glad there is weather. I have not complained about traffic; I’m glad there are people around. One of the things I did when I got home; I went down to shopping centers, and I’d just go there, get an ice cream cone or something, and just watch the people go by. And think “Boy we’re lucky to be here. Why do people complain about the Earth? We are living in the Garden of Eden.”
– Alan Bean, Apollo 12

As Neil and I first stood on the surface of the moon looking back at Earth—a bright blue marble suspended in the blackness of space—the experience moved us in ways that we could not have anticipated.
– Buzz Aldrin, Apollo 11

Please remember that everything done in the 1960s was done with what is now 50-year-old technology. The stars are not beyond our grasp; it’s our lives that have been neutered.

The meaning of modern existence has devolved to nothing more than comfort and status; discovery is a non-factor. All modern man seeks are food, sex, and comfort, and he/she devotes his/her life to nothing more than mundane things.

But once humanity does re-awaken, the doorway to the stars stands open to us.

Paul Rosenberg

9 thoughts on “We Were Young and Headed to the Stars”

  1. Yes, there was a vibrant excitement in the air, starting with the panic when the Russians launched Sputnik in 1957, ending with triumph when America landed on the moon in 1969. And, as you say, the spirit of exploration has been in decline since then, which is a shame.

    But … there are some things you don’t mention.

    . All that was done with government money; i.e. money extracted by force from everyone, whether they supported space exploration or not. Today, we at least have some privately-funded space ventures. So in that sense, the world is moving forward, not backward.

    . Humanity was/is on its way to the stars? You know that the nearest star is more than 4 light-years away, right? It’s not impossible to send a probe that far, but for “humanity” to venture that far into space is theoretically daunting, at least until worm holes or other trickery emerge from the realm of fantasy. There’s always Einstein’s warping of time so that the travelers (if they’ve achieved speeds near the speed of light on their journey) aren’t as old as their friends left behind on earth, but still. I think it’s a lot more realistic, and exciting, to think about sending humans to Mars, and leave the stars to unmanned probes.

    The core message of your column is on target, however, my quibbles notwithstanding. As a society, we HAVE lost some sense of possibility, of excitement, that we’d do well to try to recapture.

  2. As great as the things you describe were, and we must be about the same age for I was similarly excited by the space program, the program was a complete disaster then as now from the standpoint of freedom. For its seeming brilliant success persuaded many Americans to look upon the federal government as capable of doing most anything. How many times have you heard, “If we can put men on the moon, we can_____________________.” Fill in the blank with any so-called government social-welfare program). It was next to impossible for the opponents of government largesse to explain the dangers of socialism against such demagoguery. It still is, for most Americans still view the space program as a roaring success. However, like all government initiatives–every single one of them–when all the lost opportunity costs are factored into the space program equation, rest assured that it has been a financial bonanza for the few and a financial sinkhole for the rest. Not only have many of the tax dollars spent on the program been wasted in typical bureaucratic-management fashion, the government’s massive $$$ spending program probably set back private initiatives in space exploration by all of those 50 years you mentioned. It is only recently with government funding drying up that private space initiatives have taken off. I put the space program next to the New Deal with its CCC and similar boondoggles, and World War II, as having taught the American public more wrong lessons than anything in the nation’s history.

  3. Your timeline is accurate. The cause is that we’re getting old. During the times of which you write, older people were about 5% of the population; now it’s closer to 12%. We want comfort more than adventure. It’s like that in most of the western world.

    Also, the adventures of which you write were financed by tapayers. Many of them supported the space program. Now, most tax money is going to making people comfortable (i.e. buying votes) with a fair amount going to graft and other political pay-offs. The feet of the federal government are revealed as being made of clay. There is more disapproval than support. Unexpected?

    Signs of the times or a typical change in attitude as society grows old?

  4. When I was a kid reading science fiction, it was often assumed we’d establish a presence in orbit first, creating a base from which to venture to the moon and beyond.
    In retrospect, the science fiction stories were probably right.
    Orbital satellites are now an important part of our economy. They generate a huge return on our investment, even before space manufacturing has begun.

  5. Back in the 60’s when we did our TRUE space exploring, we were technologically “over-achieving”. We did great things but not in the scope of practicality. Since then we have ammassed larger amounts of knowledge about science and technology and have built the internet which will soon be reinforced with a prevailant cryptographic mesaging system that will preserve free speech for anyone with connectivity. With billions (or at least millions) of minds working together to explore our potential, we will go back into space again, this time much more mature and capable. It could happen lots of ways. Someone could discover a billion ton chunk of neodymium and it would be “miner 2049er”, repeating history all over again. Some day we could have a whole new kind of “pilgrimage” where a segment of humanity chooses to depart along with the tools needed to survive to live off-world. It seems far fetched today but not for long as personal manufacturing matures. It does seem to be that we have been going backwards lately, but its actually the 1500’s now. We’ve rolled the clock back 400 years and we’ve got a new world to settle. It will take time with lots of effort, risk, failure, pain, suffering, death, pleasure, success, discovery and JOY!! Humanity is a pot-bound plant that needs to take root outside. The pot will break and the story of life will continue.

  6. Is there anything more earthboiund
    than ‘dreams of star travel’.

    Like smelling the rotting velcro on the starship Enterprise.

    We’re NOT impressed with playing golf on Alpha Centauri.

    AGAIN —dont fall for the BABLYONIAN clay,
    ——————even when they sling it across the universe!

  7. I think JdL pointed out a huge problem with “going to space”. The shear distances involved and the time required for payback. Except JdL slightly understated the distance to Andromeda. It’s about 3 million light years not 4 light years. Some other galaxies are about 1 million light years away. The moon and Mars were relatively easy but then what? Where? With what funds? For what purpose?
    I think we’re doing the right thing by beginning to get private involvement and emphasizing robotic exploration of the near planets. Anything further out is an ill-defined pipe dream. Unmanned probes to “stars” will take millions of years unless we develop faster than light technology quick. Good luck with that.

  8. I once was a believer, however after much due diligence. I am a skeptic of the entire Apollo program. Way too much evidence that the public was hoodwinked.

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