50 years ago the Space Age began.
12 years after Sputnik I's alarming debut, I photographed the roaring launch of Apollo 11 for this Conde' Nast cover. I've been in volcanic eruptions before and since, but the 1969 event was like nothing so much as 9-11 run backwards.
The political dark side of NASA's thundering technological triumph has parallels in the aftermath of 9-11 as well . The focused idealism seen in the months following each event gave way to both millenarian dreams and dystopic fantasies, and a plenum of unjustified claims.
In the moon launch's case, the success of outspending our Cold War adversary led to NASA's evolution into an obstacle to economic sanity in space , as its vastly expensive bureaucracy turned to defending its turf instead of expanding man's presence in the solar system.
In the 1950s many science fiction writers predicted men would walk on the moon, and though few were so bold as to assert it would happen within a decade, many of the greatest gathered at Cape Kennedy to witness the realization of their dream. They did a lot of predicting, but none imagined that after a half dozen lunar voyages in as many years , no one would set foot on the moon for another generation. It was a suggestion as inconceivable as Columbus returning from the New World only to counsel Queen Isabella to stop wasting her time and treasure on Atlantic caravels , and focus on employing more galley slaves.
That is essentially what we got five centuries later, as NASA's dysfunctional bureaucracy concentrated on the ill fated Space Shuttle even as an explosion of entrepreneurial creativity in Silicon Valley showed that the Right Stuff had quit Cape Canaveral and gone west.
Within five years of 9-11, TSA had likewise discovered that the main mission of any organization that does not have to justify its mandate is to spend as much as possible, but while NASA merely wasted the taxpayer's money, mindless spending by Homeland Security translates into the waste of the nation's time as well. Treating passengers like Spam In A Can astronauts prepared to suffer unending delays to get off the ground manifests bureaucratic sadism more than safety concern.
NASA 's downward trajectory can teach us a lot about what else TSA should not be doing, but if history is any precedent, the last thing Homeland Security will do is study those lessons of its own accord.