Monday will be the 40th anniversary of the moon landing. Of all the remarkable achievements of the 20th century, it's the one most worth celebrating. I remember sitting in the third-floor lounge of our barracks at Fort Hood, Texas, astonished and not quite believing what I saw on the TV screen. Remarkably, and sadly, we sort of gave up on space after that. Here's Charles Krauthammer lamenting our retreat and wishing we would go back:
Why do it? It's not for practicality. We didn't go to the moon to spin off cooling suits and freeze-dried fruit. Any technological return is a bonus, not a reason. We go for the wonder and glory of it. Or, to put it less grandly, for its immense possibilities. We choose to do such things, said JFK, "not because they are easy, but because they are hard." And when you do such magnificently hard things -- send sailing a Ferdinand Magellan or a Neil Armstrong -- you open new human possibility in ways utterly unpredictable.
[. . .]
But look up from your BlackBerry one night. That is the moon. On it are exactly 12 sets of human footprints -- untouched, unchanged, abandoned. For the first time in history, the moon is not just a mystery and a muse, but a nightly rebuke. A vigorous young president once summoned us to this new frontier, calling the voyage "the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked." We came, we saw, we retreated.
How could we?
I wish I could see something else remarkable on TV Monday -- President Obama announcing he will recommit to manned missions to the moon and then to Mars. It would require a relatively modest amount of money, considering the trillions being tossed around lately, and it could actually add to human progress instead of just redistributing what we already have. I doubt that will happen, however.