One Small Step for Man, One Giant Analogy for Innovation

Moonrise.jpg

Forty-one years ago today, humans set foot on the moon for the first time. Neil Armstrong left a footprint in the dust, and said, "This is one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." Interestingly, he went off script for that remark. He meant to say, "This is one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind." (I think we're all thankful for the flub.)

This post is really about great space photos, but allow me a quick digression into the outsized role Apollo now plays in energy policy, mostly due to that glorious moment four decades ago.

Apollo is the analog of choice for any field in science and technology that proponents think needs a big boost in funding. We apparently need an Apollo project for everything, most especially energy. The impulse to draw the link to Apollo is understandable. NASA was incredibly successful at boosting its budget during the program's early days. And while there was fierce opposition to Apollo (aka "the moondoggle") before its completion, the success of the missions erased most of it.

Energy R&D, particularly for non-nuclear technologies, has historically been underfunded, so most energy experts think it makes sense to increase that budget, perhaps to $15 billion a year (or 0.1% of GDP). By drawing the link with a proud moment in American history, some groups think clean energy advocates can gather political momentum.

But the Apollo analogy just doesn't fit our energy situation, in my mind, not least because we wouldn't want energy R&D to turn out the way Apollo did: the program was canceled before it could finish its docket of flights.

More deeply, Apollo just had to get some guys to the moon. It didn't have to change Earth (though some would argue it did). Put it this way: Apollo barely left a mark on the moon, while a clean energy R&D program would have the goal of changing the way everyone on Earth does everything. So, I lean towards the group of policy people like Butler economist Peter Grossman who think that the rhetoric of Apollo has "political benefits but" ultimately is "detrimental to the adoption of potentially effective energy policies."

In any case, more on that another time. Today, we can just reflect on why Apollo has political cache. It was a wondrous thing getting to the Moon (and beating the Russians to boot!) and NASA savvily made sure it was very well-documented. Enjoy. According to NASA, all these photos were taken exactly 41 years ago on July 20, 1969.

Images: NASA.

footprint2.jpg

The footprint seen round the world. 


Buzz Aldrin and flag.jpgBuzz Aldrin posing for a photograph with the American flag on the moon.

spacesuit.jpg
Buzz Aldrin in his space suit. Make sure to check out the awesome reflection off his helmet.

Presented by

Saving the Bees

Honeybees contribute more than $15 billion to the U.S. economy. A short documentary considers how desperate beekeepers are trying to keep their hives alive.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Technology

Just In