For one thing, as we’ve already seen, the idealistic aspects of 60s culture were inexorably tied to political liberalism, to an extent that Doctor Who, by embracing a psychedelic aesthetic, lodged a politically liberal approach at the heart of what it does. It is in no way the case that liberalism ended in 1968, but the fundamental shift described in this entry was that political liberalism shifted from being in the ascendency to being on the defensive. Which means that the idea that any culminating event in the realm of hope and utopian ideology happening in 1969 is fundamentally ludicrous.
And indeed, the moon landing was no darling of the 1960s left-wing, with the usual refrain being some observation about throwing money away in space when there are so many problems here on Earth. Certainly nothing coming out of the Nixon administration had anything resembling a claim to 1960s utopianism.
So what was the moon landing, if not one of the high points of the utopian 60s? By and large, it was a dead end. The reality turned out to be that space is enormously expensive and lacking in all practical value. The moon wasn’t our first step into space – it was our last one, with no realistic plan in existence over forty years later to even return there, little yet to push on to Mars or elsewhere. Why? Mainly because there’s no visible point. No cost-efficient way of gathering any materials from foreign worlds exists or appears to exist. No life or habitability appears to exist. And after a point that’s right around Mars we rapidly reach a point where we are putting people in capsules for obscenely long amounts of time so that they can walk on rocks no more habitable than the last uninhabitable rock they walked on.
In other words, all visible evidence regarding any point in space that we can get to suggests that we are alone and would be spending massive amounts of money for nothing other than the sake of getting there. As long as this remains the case – and there’s no particular reason to think it’s changing at any point in the near future – space travel will never be a major priority of any organization with the money to accomplish it.
If we’re being honest, the moon landing is a military victory in the Cold War more than anything. We should rewind a bit, actually, and look at how we got to the moon. Mostly, it’s Hitler’s fault. In all seriousness, as Neal Stephenson points out, the use of rockets for space travel mostly comes down to the fact that Hitler was oddly obsessed with the things and happened to have (before he destroyed it by driving all the Jews out) more or less the best science program in the world.…