There’s been a lot on the news and broadcast media lately about the Apollo 50-year anniversary. It is right we should celebrate this. We went to the moon with hot-water-heater tech and slide rules in just six years–all while we were fighting a war half a world away. By today’s standards, the technology seems pretty primitive, but that’s not what makes this such an accomplishment.
Like other similar achievements, Stonehenge, winning World War II, building the Panama Canal, the Pyramids in Egypt, and erecting the Great Wall of China, its not just the technology involved. These were all triumphs of management, the organizing and administering of massive projects. An entire society was mobilized and thrown at a project with no guarantee of success, and the results were magnificent. It doesn’t happen too often in human history, but when it does it shows us what men can do–and it is nothing short of magic.
The Pyramids are a prime example, again, not because of the tech. We had muscle power, copper chisels, and an architectural science that didn’t use concrete, the arch, the buttress, or any of the other techniques available in the Iron Age two thousand years later. But the stone was quarried, shaped and finished, the materials transported by specially designed barges great distances, not just on the River, but on canals and harbors temporarily dug especially for the purpose, then dragged up ramps and placed with exquisitely surveyed precision. Tens of thousands of men (not slaves, but paid laborers and craftsmen) had to be housed, fed, trained, transported and organized for a lifetime of construction, and not just to build the monuments, but also all the support facilities and infrastructure needed to get the job done. And all backed up by a civilization based on the most primitive hydraulic agriculture.
Even without the actual tech needed to finish the task, these were all highly complex and sophisticated operations, they were Man at his best, most powerful, most creative. Just managing the job was a phenomenal accomplishment.
America did it three times in a half century. In Panama, before even the ground survey could take place, swamps had to be drained, disease-carrying mosquitoes eradicated and cities for the workers constructed. In World War II, we not only had to come back from a Great Depression, but a devastating military defeat as well. That is just fucking amazing.
The question is, the problems we face now, particularly Global Warming, are going to require this kind of commitment and effort.
Can we do it one more time?