No reason to visit moon -- Nothing to do there

July 22, 1994|By MIKE ROYKO

A recurring complaint heard during the 25th anniversary commemoration of the first moon walk is that this country has lost the will to explore outer space.

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, who was on the historic Apollo 11 voyage, put it this way:

"For one crowning moment we were creatures of the cosmic ocean, a moment that a thousand years hence may be seen as the signature of our century.

"Yet an eerie apathy now seems to inflict the very generation who witnessed and were inspired by these events.

"The past quarter-century has seen a withered capacity for wonder and a growing retreat to delusions of risk-free society."

Disappointment in our diminished space ambitions was put another way by Eugene Kranz, the flight controller.

Kranz said: "It is like Columbus discovering America and then deciding never to come back."

Are they right? Have we developed an eerie apathy that has killed our spirit of adventure, our zest for new frontiers, our desire to explore the unknown and push on to where mankind has never before been?

Have we abandoned the legacy of Columbus and the other great explorers of history?

Are we afraid that we will run into some creepy, crawly, long-toothed, man-eating green alien creatures out there?

Nah.

We stopped going to the moon and haven't gone to Mars and other places for one very simple reason.

There's nothing much to do there.

True, getting to the moon that first time in 1969 was very exciting. The liftoff . . . the eagle has landed . . . one small step for man, a giant leap for mankind . . . and the other suspenseful and thrilling moments.

Futurists immediately began jabbering about how this would begin a new era of exploration, with bold earthlings zooming all over the solar system, establishing floating space stations and colonies on the moon and Mars and who knows where else.

But what the futurists ignored was that when we got to the moon -- at enormous expense -- it turned out to be exactly as we expected. It was barren and bleak and dusty and had an awful climate.

Well, how many people want to visit a place like that? When I get the urge to go somewhere that is barren and bleak and has an awful climate, I hop in my car and drive to Indiana.

And Mars is probably even worse than the moon. It will take at least six months to get there, then what do you do? If you are a volcano buff, it has one that is 17 miles high. But you can fly to Hawaii in less than a day and see a volcano, as well as girls who dance the shimmy and some very good bars. You could explore Mars for a lifetime and not find one joint that serves rum drinks in coconut shells.

So it is not a lack of an adventurous spirit that has led to the decline of our space program. It's that most people want to go somewhere nice.

Look at the Japanese. When they come to this country, do they go to Indiana? Do they wander through central Illinois looking at corn fields?

Of course not. They go to golf resorts. And if the moon could support golf resorts, the Japanese would already be there, buying up the best tee times and jamming the courses by stopping after every swing to take each other's picture.

Or take your average Americans. Where do they want to go? To Disney World, of course. But can you imagine taking three or four kids to the moon? All you would hear is, "What's there to do?" What would you tell them, "Go outside and play catch with a rock"?

No, back in 1969, any travel agent could have told the astronauts and the futurists that there would never be a great demand for moon and Mars trips. Yes, for a few adventurers. But remember, more people go to a Las Vegas casino in one day than have tried to climb Mount Everest throughout history. People want a good time, not the thrill of having their nose freeze and fall off.

As for the Apollo flight controller's observations that it was like Columbus discovering America, and not coming back: I guarantee that if America looked like the moon, nobody would have come back.

The explorers, pioneers and adventurers came here because it looked terrific and they correctly thought there was a lot of loot and booty they could plunder, and somebody helpless they could conquer.

That's always been what pushed mankind on to new horizons -- the old loot, rape, plunder and pillage trick.

But what is there to loot and plunder on the moon? Too bad it didn't turn out to be made of green cheese. By now, the big food companies would have their own space fleets and would be chopping it into bite-size snacks.

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