There was a spate of documentaries this summer about the space race and astrology. One was quite alarming. Apparently, our sun is going to get larger and hotter and expand to envelope and destroy Mercury and Venus. The Earth will then be the closest to our star and possibly too hot for habitation. This got me worried. Although it’s going to happen in 5 billion years, I am concerned about my legacy and all the art-work that will be burned up and forgotten. Luckily many things are stored on the Cloud and can be stationed on a base on Titan, a moon of Saturn. Apparently we have pictures from there taken by a satellite of ours (Huygen’s Probe) that landed in 2005! I had been totally ignorant of that fact. Neither did I realize that the Mayans were the only ancient culture to accurately measure the calendar year. Wow. I have been aware through art history that there was use of pyramidal structures across cultures early on, all trying to connect to the heavens. Some practiced blood sacrifice. So what are we aiming for now?
The documentaries about Apollo Eleven got very long winded but I enjoyed the refresher course. I was thirteen when my parents woke me up to watch the grainy and garbled event in real time that summer of 1969. I remember Nixon saying hello with his gravelly voice. “I’m glad you men didn’t die on prime time.” It was cheerful news compared to the war, riots and assassinations. Fifty-year celebrations of Moon Walks or Woodstock bring up all kinds of new issues within our present day political forum. Most of them are exaggerated by media, smart phones and bogus-influencers and their naff pop psychology. I was mildly shocked at the Social Justice view of the moon landing in the three-night PBS film, Chasing The Moon. Has virtue signaling found its way into everything? Civil Rights Leader, Ralph Abernathy wanted to know how much could be spent on poverty instead. Can you go to the moon and still spend money on poverty? Of course you can. The head of NASA then gave his group tickets to the launch.
The Sixties space race is now depicted as a colonialist competition with the Russians instead of a self-evident search for knowledge. True, there was tit-for-tat ballistics matching the Red’s achievements (they are still the bad guys) but Mankind had fantasized about space travel for thousands of years. Now we have to re-tread history and squeeze minorities into the larger Cold War narrative. The film, Hidden Figures filled in racial gaps and made me cry but it’s far too simplistic and sentimental. To be fair on America, the original Star Trek featured foreigners and people of color (an attempt at inclusion) even if it was based in the future. Do aliens count? Not everyone was a racist in 1960! OK, Werner von Braun helped us out. No back-pedaling here, Hitler’s “Rocket Man” was crucial. This didn’t pass un-noticed; he was spoofed by Tom Lehr and in Dr. Strangelove. Kubrick’s 2001, a Space Odyssey came out in 1968. Freaks dug it!
The wider sociological comparison interests me. Landing on the Moon cannot be separated from the post-war era and narrative of improvement. The Sixties/Seventies were icing on the cake: The Generation Gap was widening but it paralleled the “Great Society.” The “American Dream” was still filling out, opening up and soon to plateau. See Oil Embargo. The Lunar landing coincided with Woodstock and escalations in Vietnam but consciousness raising still had a long way to go. Eventually, everybody got hip and grew their hair. Even my parents (Silent Majority) sported massive lapels. Ghastly apparel was commonplace.
Without Grand Narratives we spiral into unknown territory and stagger, confused, especially when the achievements are stripped away historically. We hammer away at the picket-fence cohesion. Call it Hamiltonizing. Forget about the progress that was made over this time. We have access to excellent coffee drinks. We are privileged to live in consumer heaven. And think about all the excellent Rock n’ Roll Music, a multi-racial project. Things may not have worked out to everyone’s satisfaction but the opportunity was there in spirit. In my costly research, I listened to Whitey On The Moon by Gil Scott Heron. There was a lot to complain about then. Equality was new for everybody. But now? Systemized victimization is de rigueur and, via Hip-Hop, exaggerated. Tupac and his subculture mean a lot to some people but he was no Gil Scott Heron.
There is a disconnect between the dwindling of Sixties space exploration and the new attempts to set up colonies on the Moon and Mars. They are trendy and Silicon Valley inspired. Everybody is landing on the moon now. Soon there will be Chinese food available and a Curry House. But it’s small potatoes. Compared to the daring feats of the Sixties, our present science fixation is a big yawn. Armstrong landed the Lunar Module with 17 seconds of fuel remaining and a damaged Radio Shack keyboard. It was good he was wearing diapers.
I suggest that America’s progressive movement had reached its end much like the Sixties space program. Why can’t people see this? It is explained in Post-Modern texts. Does no one read? Today we obsess on theories of the “Other” and the “Outsider.” They make you feel righteous. The notion is expanded and compressed it into a fierce imperium, a dictat that my local NPR station eschews. One show explained how the full moon was making my sleep intermittent. I have always suspected that. Don’t get me wrong; “Summer of Space” has been good. The Moon inspired programs interrupted the constant pandering to overbearing Queer Studies. They will not rest until there is a token “Trannie” on Tranquility sporting a rainbow flag and glitter ball.