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Neil Armstrong: ‘A Little Bit of Bedlam’

As we approach the 45th anniversary of the first landing on the Moon, journalist and author Neil McAleer has been looking back at an interview he conducted with Neil Armstrong on March 16, 1989. The author of Visionary: The Odyssey of Sir Arthur C. Clarke (Clarke Project, 2012), McAleer has lived among and written about the space community for many years. We learn little about Clarke from this interview, but Armstrong’s character comes through — he’s terse, focused, always impatient to get back to work. I suspect Centauri Dreams regular Al Jackson, who worked with Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in his role as astronaut trainer on the Lunar Module Simulator (see The Magicians of Confidence), will recognize Armstrong’s mode here immediately. His self-imposed distance could never conceal the cool competence he displayed on the most breathtaking descent in history.

An interview conducted by Neil McAleer


I requested this interview with Neil Armstrong 25 years ago, when I was writing and researching the first edition of my Arthur C. Clarke biography. That work was the reason. I wanted to know how they met and what kind of relationship they had during the early years of the Space Age.

The interview’s first question, not on tape, asked Mr. Armstrong if he knew how Arthur C. Clarke’s substantial Epilogue (“Beyond Apollo”) for the book First on the Moon came about.

[Armstrong] “I just don’t have that kind of information.”

This book—subtitled, “A Voyage with Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr.”–is considered the official eyewitness account of Apollo 11’s journey to the moon’s surface and return to Earth. It was published in 1970, the year after their historic mission.

Neil Armstrong and Arthur C Clarke Meet at Converence on Wallops Island, VA No 3 (1)

[McAleer] “Did you ever actually meet Clarke, by the way?”

[Armstrong] “Yes. We attended a NASA meeting for a couple of days, and I can’t remember where it was. It seems to me it was somewhere in Virginia. [Wallops Island I found out later]. It must have been around 1970.”

[McAleer] “Did it have anything to do with the book, First on the Moon, or the afterword Clarke wrote for it?”

[Armstrong] “No, It had nothing to do with that. NASA gathered together a number of people, primarily NASA senior executives, but there were a number of non-NASA personnel also invited as well. And they were looking at the future. The purpose was to look at what the important forces and functions in the years to come might be. Arthur was an invited attendee, and I had a chance to chat. . . .”

Image: Neil Armstrong and Arthur Clarke met for the first time during a NASA conference held on Wallops Island, VA in June 1970, having shared the bus that took them out to Wallops from NASA headquarters.

A computer alarm, a harsh buzzer, sounds loudly in the background.

“Hold on!” says Armstrong, and attends to the alarm and computer challenge.

I waited about a minute and started to ask another question too soon.

“Hold on a second; I got another problem here . . . a little bit of bedlam.”

That phrase, “ a little bit of bedlam” took me back in time—I was thinking that this was an earthbound analogy to the computer program alarms that set off during the final descent of Apollo 11‘s Excursion Module, the Eagle, to the moon’s surface. The first alarm sounded at about 6,000 feet above the lunar surface. And several more sounded as Eagle descended. Soon NASA made the call that the computer overload alarms were related to the rendezvous radar, and not the landing radar.

Then the second real problem: fuel supply getting extremely low and visibility poor because of kicked up dust near the surface. The fuel supply was then 20 seconds as Armstrong hunted for a smooth site without large boulders and Aldrin kept calling out Eagle’s relative position changes.

Commander Neil Armstrong and Pilot Buzz Aldrin used those seconds well and set the Eagle down–safely, without any dents, as history turned out–on the Sea of Tranquility.

A minute or two later, Armstrong was back at the phone. I gave up my flashback memories and returned to the interview—shifting from the 1970 conference to his years at Purdue University.

[McAleer] “You were in your early 20s, at Purdue, probably bogged down in engineering texts. Had you read any of Arthur’s books early on? In ’52 Clarke’s Exploration of Space was published, for example, which explored the future of space travel.”

[Armstrong] “I can’t recall. I might have started reading . . . I don’t remember things that he wrote, and that I might have read, or any impact they may have had [early in his college years]. I read many of his books subsequently, but I don’t know if they were important to me in those years.

Armstrong in simulator_2

Image: NASA Tests pilots Neil Armstrong and James W. Wood (seated) working inside the simulator for the experimental Dyna-Soar spaceplane program, 1960, Edwards Air Force Base.

[McAleer] “You read the novel 2001? Before Apollo 11?”

[Armstrong] “I saw the movie. I don’t know if I read the book at that point. There were a lot of books at some point in time but I don’t know when I might have read them.”

I then told Armstrong I was looking for early influences, like Joe Allen, the astronaut, being influenced by early Clarke books. Like Carl Sagan. I refer back to his conversation with Clarke, and I say, “at the luncheon” (intending to add “of the conference,” but did not) an assumption on my part. He corrects me immediately.

[Armstrong] “Not a luncheon. It was a couple-of-day meeting, and people were giving papers and so on, and I had a chance to chat with him some at that time. And I may have met, bumped into him at other times as well; I . . . I just don’t recall.”

[McAleer] “So you don’t recall any specific conversation, even about any of the papers delivered?”

[Armstrong] “No I don’t.”

I decided—time to move on. Armstrong had a meaningful, adventurous, chock-full life, with countless specific details. Why should he be able to remember the kind of detail I was after? So I transitioned from past to present.

[McAleer] What do you think about Mike Collins’ new book, Lift Off?

[Armstrong] “It’s a good book. It’s typical Mike.” [he says, and follows with a little laugh]

[McAleer] “When is Armstrong going to tell his story? Ever?”

[Armstrong] “Well, I think the story is well documented. Since we were completely open with everything we saw, felt, heard, and ah . . . experienced at the time, there is little that can be added in retrospect that would add significantly to the history.”

[McAleer] “Even your early years? Anything out about your youth, getting a flying license, your early flying experiences?”

[Armstrong] “Ah . . . I don’t know what that has to do with Arthur Clarke.”

Armstrong’s consistency and focus wouldn’t let an interviewer–including me!–get off subject! His skepticism about some journalists, based on some bad experiences with aggressive, less-principled, and “getting it wrong” reporters, was well known.

Armstrong in LEM Simuatior 3368641-239x300

I just fell back on the truth for a defense.

[McAleer] “It doesn’t,” I confessed. “I’m making a quick transition here. I just hope someday there will be a Neil Armstrong story.”

[Armstrong] “Well, perhaps there will be something sometime.”

[McAleer] “But you don’t have any plans to move ahead with it?”

[Armstrong] “I do not.”

[McAleer] “Will you be participating in the 20th anniversary of Apollo 11 in any way?”

[Armstrong] “NASA has a number of activities scheduled that I’ll participate in.”

Image: Less than 10 years after working in the Dyna-Soar simulator, Neil Armstrong was training in the Apollo program’s Lunar Excursion Module simulator in Houston—with all the “bells and whistles.”

He paused for a second or two and then went back to the beginning of our interview. “You asked about his foreword? [for First on the Moon]

[McAleer] “Afterword,” I corrected (actually an Epilogue).

[Armstrong] “Yes, as far as I know that was not organized by the crew. That was done by Little Brown. I don’t think the crew had any discussions with Mr. Clarke about that. The crew had no participation in that.”

We had gone full circle. Armstrong had finally answered my first question precisely. Perhaps this was when the curtain comes down-—at full cycle. Yet I still wanted a few more minutes of his time. When you have the first man who stepped on the surface of the moon on the phone, you just don’t want to hang up too quickly.

I then talked to Armstrong about the idea of a 25th anniversary Apollo 11 book, and connected to that, my forthcoming meeting and interview with Ian Ballantine and his wife Betty, pioneers in paperback book publishing in the United States after WWII. Witness the year 1953: The Ballantines published many books, but among them were the first editions of Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. That was a good year, 1953, for science fiction.

[Armstrong] “It’s not something that jumps out at me, but I remain open . . . . “

[McAleer] So everything’s going well?”

[Armstrong] “No complaints.”

[McAleer] “Good. So any idea about when you’re going to retire?”

[Armstrong laughs] “I don’t have any idea.”

[McAleer] “The conference in 1970-—Were Mike and Buzz there?”

[Armstrong] “It didn’t have anything to do with Apollo 11. It was during the time that I was a NASA bureaucrat. I was there as part of my responsibility at NASA in Washington. I was there in an official capacity.”

[McAleer] Did you deliver a paper or anything?”

[Armstrong] “I don’t remember that I did. I just don’t recall. Clarke was the only person from what you might call the . . . [he hesitates] ‘writer’s world’. I attended a lot of these kinds of meetings. What should be going on in the future of NASA? In regards to the program planning? There were astronomers, biologists, program managers there. My responsibility was not space but aeronautics. Arthur was on the space side; that’s why he was invited.”

It was closing time; past it actually. I knew for sure.


Image: Bird’s-eye view of the support components and scientists running the Apollo LEM simulator in Houston to train Apollo crew members. That’s Centauri Dreams contributor Al Jackson facing the camera at the main console.

[McAleer] “Mr. Armstrong, I’m sorry my ‘short phone call’ took a little longer than I thought.”

[Armstrong] “Well, that’s all right. I’m sorry there wasn’t anything that would be much help to you, as I said at the beginning.”

I couldn’t remember him saying that–probably because I didn’t want to hear it.

Finally I thanked him for his perspective and help, and we said goodbye.

Some interviews can often turn out to be important in an entirely different way than intended. I learned that he was still dealing with program alarms and computers in his work some 20 years after the Apollo 11 mission to the moon and back. I consider that fact amazing.

Armstrong was chairman of Computing Technologies for Aviation (CTA, Inc.) for most of the 1980s, including 1989, the year of this interview. The company was based in Charlottesville, Virginia, and it provided software for flight scheduling and support activities. This software was important to corporate jet operators to maximize the efficient use of their aircraft. And even before the Apollo 11 mission, in Armstrong’s early years of running and designing flight simulations—he had plenty of alarms as a test pilot. So computer program alarms were common events throughout much of his career—including March 16, 1989.

Actually, as my research on Clarke went forth, I did learn an important aspect of the relationship between Clarke and Armstrong. I learned that most of their primary contacts were through occasional written correspondence over the years or news from third parties. Their face-to-face meetings were very rare—possibly only that one time on Wallops Island, Virginia in 1970.

In one of the many appearances and interviews Armstrong did with Collins and Aldrin a few months later for the 20th anniversary of Apollo 11, he said this:

“We are amazed by, enthralled by, then bored by, and eventually forget some new things usually within one revolution of the Earth around the sun. That’s the way humans are. And so it’s a great surprise to me that so many people remember something that happened 20 years ago!”

Today we remember the first landing on the moon–45 years ago now. The countdown to the 50th Golden Anniversary is just 5 years away–2019.

But on March 16, 1989–25 years ago–I was fortunate and happy to speak with Neil Armstrong on that antique device, the corded telephone, about Arthur C. Clarke–and Neil Armstrong.

neil-armstrong-nasa-50th-anniversary 2008 tzf_img_post

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • ljk July 18, 2014, 15:01

    Review: Neil Armstong: A Life of Flight

    One of the most famous astronauts in history was also one of the most private, keeping out of the limelight after walking on the Moon and sharing his thoughts with only a select few. Jeff Foust reviews a biography of Neil Armstrong written by the journalist perhaps closest to Armstrong.

    Monday, July 7, 2014


  • Alex Tolley July 18, 2014, 15:16

    Tough interview. Armstrong seems very reluctant to open up.

    While the impression is that Armstrong barely knew Clarke, he wrote:

    I count myself among the millions who have been inspired and encouraged by Arthur C. Clarke’s contributions to literature, and I count myself among his many friends.
    —Neil Armstrong,

  • Joëlle B. July 20, 2014, 7:16

    It is fascinating to contrast Neil’s reserved attitude in comparison to Buzz’s extroverted presence in the media; you almost never know what to expect from Buzz, it’s quite entertaining. Like, for the 40th anniversary Buzz got together with rappers to create “Rocket Experience” http://www.funnyordie.com/videos/0be5c681fc/buzz-aldrin-s-rocket-experience & for this 45th a youtube campaign-


    I wonder if Neil was a fan of Buzz’s rapping. :)

  • ljk July 20, 2014, 15:25

    One may also debate who might have been the better representative for NASA and space exploration in general, and would it have kept us going with manned missions to the Moon, Mars, and the rest of the Sol system.

    Besides all that, if history had gone differently, it might have been an astronaut named Grissom who first walked on the lunar surface…


  • ljk July 20, 2014, 16:24

    Clarke was with Walter Cronkite and astronaut Wally Schirra on CBS Television covering the Apollo 11, 12, and 15 missions.


    A great quote from the article linked above:

    After having seen 2001: A Space Odyssey a mischievous idea occurred to astronaut and lunar module pilot Bill Anders, then preparing for the upcoming Apollo 8 mission: “I remember thinking at the time I saw the picture that it might be worth a chuckle to mention finding a monolith during our Apollo flight.” And as Arthur said in reply: “I have never quite forgiven Bill Anders for resisting the temptation.”2

    The Apollo 11 mission presented as Kubrick’s 2001 film:


    While looking up items on Clarke and his relationship with the Apollo program, I came across a review of this book linked here:


    While I often have little patience with ivory tower types who make anti-space pronouncements from the safety of their careers, I think some observations and comments made regarding this book are worth considering in regards to our desire to colonize the Sol system and visit other star systems.

    In a nutshell, Apollo was first and foremost a way for the United States to show up the Soviet Union using Cold War weapons technology that did not involve firing nukes at each other. Everything was secondary including the lunar science. Apollo would likely not have happened even by now if it were not for the political reasons.

    Again, space advocates really need to keep this in mind the next time they want to send a colony to Mars or a probe to Alpha Centauri and expect either the government or a corporation to foot the bill in the name of scientific curiosity and knowledge. As I was once told by the head of a former company I worked at, the bottom line of any business is making money. And there are far more people on this planet who think like that over those who want to learn for the sake of learning and making life better.

  • NS July 20, 2014, 17:36

    I remember listening live (at age 13) to the descent to the lunar surface, which was much more tense than Armstrong’s first step. I wasn’t aware of the fuel situation (IIRC someone said “30 seconds”, but I didn’t know until later that was 30 seconds of fuel). I do recall someone saying “12 alarm, 1202” and thinking “alarm? what alarm?” and when one of the astronauts said “give me the readout on that alarm” yelling at the TV something like “yeah, what about the alarm?” The response was IIRC “Eagle go for landing” which I heard with an enormous sense of relief. I do recall the “contact light” and the technical jargon before “Houston, Tranquility Base here, the Eagle has landed”. And I WAS about to turn blue.

  • David W July 20, 2014, 20:41

    Been a disappointing 45 years for those of us who were little then But then again the stunning technological advances from 1900-1970 are really exceptional So I grew up in an unusual time in history . The WSJ did hit the nail on the head that slower technology growth has led to a slower economy . I would add our view that we could do without manufacturing is part of it too

  • Joëlle B. July 21, 2014, 1:42


    You bring up good points.

    I think Buzz is doing the best he can to represent his role in the ongoing effort to encourage future generations to strive toward the stars, with high hopes and optimism. Altogether, most astronauts are doing a damned good job, considering the infant atmosphere of the topic, keeping “us going with manned missions to the Moon, Mars, and the rest of the Sol system.” The main problem seems to be as you point out– bureaucracy. Buzz is active on all fronts, even participating in audience Q&A during NASA panel presentations, as seen here at about 42 minutes in: http://www.c-span.org/video/?318982-2/future-mars-exploration

    What my young mind is unable to figure out sometimes is: if war and politics were the main motivating factors of the progressive turn of events in manned space exploration, then why doesn’t the space community come together and create some type of political facade to facilitate those same sentiments? There appears to be some highly bright individuals capable of procreative initiatives… I mean, no offense to the U.S., but a capitalist infrastructure seems like an open field for space intellectuals to dominate (in which it is doing, presently). They have the tools to not only observe and prove the existence of vast, innumerable resources beyond our planet, but also to go there and utilize the said resources.

    Let’s not fool ourselves, war is dumb, and the fact that we have imaginary lines on our planet to mentally separate ourselves from each other is even dumber, considering what we now have learned from science. It’s not like America, Africa, Asia, Oceania or Europe are barren, food-less, water-less wastelands where people should be dying because of imaginary ideals they are too immature to solve with reason, history and logic. We have surpassed the dog-eat-dog environment of our animal counterparts; there’s nothing biologically present within us that would trigger a desire to harm one another like a Zebra or Lion wildly killing another male’s offspring because some hormone or scent lets it know it isn’t his… It’s confusing! And most of all, it’s not like the space community is out-reproducing the religio-political fanatics that try to argue against scientific discovery and intergalactic expansion… not by a long shot, so I don’t think evolution is going to let them go.

    Maybe I’m naive about people’s true motives… Maybe there are people who love to fight on the fringes of survival to meaninglessly lose their lives? Adrenaline is a hell of a drug, but it’s not like blasting off in a rocket into a virtually airless vacuum can’t give you an equal, if not better fix of it, am I right?

    What’s so hard about laughing off disagreements and then continuing on with the good things in life that make sense… like food, sex and a good night’s sleep? What else is there to do besides those things except exploration and discovery, really? Oh, well you like competition? Great! We created this awesome thing called ‘sports’ millennia ago.

    The moon landing was the first truly transcendent feat to be purposefully accomplished by a species from our planet. I’m baffled at why we haven’t set foot anywhere else in 42 years. It’s embarrassing, not only for our species, but for the entirety of the universe. We gained so much technologically, socially, psychologically, and environmentally that the space community should be most ashamed with its failure to overturn any obstacles standing in its way.

    I believe the solution just might be: think like an astrophysicist, act like a soldier, build like an engineer, mate like a rabbit, and teach like a missionary!

    Disheartening to see space turn into a battlefield, it’d be. Already enough out there to worry about, there is. But the only way to propel our endeavors, I fear, may be the dark side of the Force, young Centauri Dreamers.

  • ljk July 21, 2014, 9:36

    Joëlle B. said on July 21, 2014 at 1:42:

    “What my young mind is unable to figure out sometimes is: if war and politics were the main motivating factors of the progressive turn of events in manned space exploration, then why doesn’t the space community come together and create some type of political facade to facilitate those same sentiments?”

    Making a false reason to advance space exploration and colonization would be worse than doing nothing at all. Sooner or later the facade would fall apart, people would feel deceived, and space travel would be sidelined.

    If you read David Grinspoon’s book Lonely Planets, he tells a story about the time Carl Sagan was approached to create a false alien contact event to boost the budget and standing of SETI. Sagan refused and replied that if the truth was ever learned, it would ruin support and SETI’s credibility for ages.

    Besides, exploring and utilizing space should not need to be done under false pretenses. If the politicians and general public cannot see and appreciate all the benefits of expanding into the Universe has to offer, then that is their loss. Better to have the spoils of the Cosmos go to the nations and people who are truly interested and ambitious about them.

    Space is not just some form of entertainment or playground, either. You disrespect that environment and it will be game over in very short order. I can see some tourists or corporations trying to treat space like just another vacation spot or business deal and learning the hard way that space is not Earth.

    You then said:

    “There appears to be some highly bright individuals capable of procreative initiatives… I mean, no offense to the U.S., but a capitalist infrastructure seems like an open field for space intellectuals to dominate (in which it is doing, presently). They have the tools to not only observe and prove the existence of vast, innumerable resources beyond our planet, but also to go there and utilize the said resources.”

    There are plenty of bright individuals knowledgeable about science and into space, but are there enough? I know there are even fewer who can relay the wonders and facts about the Universe to the public to get them to catch on and appreciate it as well.

    What is needed is the drive and the will, but at the moment I am watching a nation not only still trying to recover from a very bad recession but dividing itself over partisan issues that should not matter and soothing itself in various forms of what can only be described as drugs: Temporary good feelings but ultimately empty and worthless. And by drugs I do not mean just the actual illegal substances kind.

    I know one answer is definitely better education. Our public school systems do just enough to shove the kids along on a social conveyor belt. What is needed are teachers who can truly convey science and other knowledge and keep that joy children have when it comes to learning about their world. Once they see education as a wonderful thing rather than a chore, you will start to see not only a smarter nation but a populace who can truly appreciate humanity’s place in the Universe. Then we may start to expect a true interest and support in space on a scale large enough to make our permanent presence beyond Earth a reality.

  • ljk July 21, 2014, 10:03

    Joëlle B. said on July 21, 2014 at 1:42:

    “I think Buzz is doing the best he can to represent his role in the ongoing effort to encourage future generations to strive toward the stars, with high hopes and optimism.”

    I admit I was being a bit vague in my original comment so as not to offend any Armstrong “worshippers”. I know he was a great pilot and his public modesty has been fawned over since the day he returned from the Moon, but I think someone who had the space spotlight like Armstrong did should have used it to full advantage to promote space exploration and colonization. Especially when the iron was still hot during the Apollo days.

    I know NASA chose Armstrong over Aldrin because Aldrin’s more open personality and lack of modesty irritated the Good Ol’ Boys Club of macho astronauts and pilots of the 1960s, but Armstrong’s decades of isolation and virtual silence when the space program needed his voice the most is not something I care to applaud.

    NASA may have gotten their “team player” with Armstrong at the time, but they have now paid the price with lower budgets, a lack of strong public interest, and space goals that seem not only vague but ready to disappear at the whims of whoever comes next into the White House (remember Constellation?). Will that desire not to rock the boat end up sinking it just the same?

    Buzz has done a lot to promote space and that I do applaud. I just wish more NASA folks and fellow astronauts would get behind him on these efforts. Will Orion be enough to get us past the Moon to stay? Will the public care? Will it even survive whoever gets elected President next?

    The only presidential candidate I have seen in the last few decades who actually understood and cared about space – Newt Gingrich – was ridiculed by both sides for daring to suggest the United States should have a manned lunar base by the end of this decade during the 2012 campaign. Mitt Romney went so far as to say he would fire anyone on his staff who would dare to present him with such an idea. My, how comforting.

    The point is not whether you care about Gingrich or not, the point is that when Kennedy suggested putting a man on the Moon by the end of the 1960s, it had enough support to become reality. These days when some American leader suggests another space milestone for this nation, the reaction from the majority is always short-sighted and mocking.

    As I said in my last comment, if the USA does not care enough to be the leader in emerging humanity into the Cosmos, then the honor should go to those who are willing to make the effort. America often seems to need a kick in the pants to do what is right anyway on an international – and now celestial – scale.

    Altogether, most astronauts are doing a damned good job, considering the infant atmosphere of the topic, keeping “us going with manned missions to the Moon, Mars, and the rest of the Sol system.” The main problem seems to be as you point out– bureaucracy. Buzz is active on all fronts, even participating in audience Q&A during NASA panel presentations, as seen here at about 42 minutes in: http://www.c-span.org/video/?318982-2/future-mars-exploration

  • Alex Tolley July 21, 2014, 10:09


    I was once told by the head of a former company I worked at, the bottom line of any business is making money. And there are far more people on this planet who think like that over those who want to learn for the sake of learning and making life better.

    Let us not forget that it is “economic surplus” that allows us to do anything beyond survival. That has always been true. It is wealth creation that allows the “non-productive” activities. It wasn’t an accident that Renaissance Italy was able to produce the Art that it did. Apollo and its ilk were non-productive. Note that by the time the ISS was being designed, there was at least lip service that it might be productive in some way.

    This is why I think that the commercialization of space is the right way to go. If there is a business to be made, it generates its own rationale for continuance. The infrastructure developed will facilitate other non-productive space activities. In a sense, Heinlein had the better approach in “The Man Who Sold the Moon”. (I can recommend Jason Stoddard’s “Winning Mars” as a modern version).

    Human spaceflight in many ways has developmentally stalled. It is really still like early aviation. We have the proof that it is possible, like the early heavier than air planes. The main approach has been rockets, developed for war. Aircraft were used for observation and bombing. We would like to commercialize space but need a market, like postal delivery by plane. Commercial spaceflight is still on the horizon, like more like the barnstorming stage than passenger airliners. The good news is that there appears to be enough interest in commercialization that we have the equivalent of the early aviation spurt of manufacturers and associated flowering of design away from the equivalent of the WWI biplane.

    If we are to have permanent human interplanetary travel and even star flight, it will have to be an economic part of a much larger economy. Otherwise it will never be more than the equivalent of an Antarctic base that is a cost, rather than an economic installation.

  • ljk July 21, 2014, 13:18

    Alex, define “non-productive”. If you mean something has to make our toilet paper softer and our television screens even bigger and clearer, then that is a sad and limited level of existence. But also largely true for most.

    NASA has had lots of spinoffs that benefit society, but why again do we need to justify our space agency in that way? Somehow revealing secrets about our amazing Universe is not enough? Actually landing humans on the Moon is not exciting and encouraging enough? We will see benefits down the road from these things that we cannot quite imagine now, or maybe we can but they haven’t hit home collectively yet. That does not make them valueless.

    Art and science are anything but non-productive. The problem is most humans want immediate, tangible results and the future can go hang. Fill their bellies, make them feel quick joy, and satisfy their other base needs and that is good enough for the majority, who has had this kind of thinking pushed on them by consumer society since day one.

    This is why I think Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World has the best chance of being our future rather than, say, Orwell’s dystopian nightmare in 1984. In Huxley’s novel, everybody is raised for a certain level and task in society and they gladly accept it with conditioning that including being given their every base need whenever they want. The few dissenter are socially ostracized and sent off to some remote island where they can whine and rant all they want.

    Nobody needs to be threatened or tortured, just take care of their emotional and bodily needs and most people will willingly follow just about any kind social order. Of course this will require a strict control on population numbers, because too many people will be a drain on resources and police order and then we will have Soylent Green or worse.

    I think a lot of things most people enjoy have little value beyond making them happy and a relative few rich. But that does not stop them from existing now does it?

    As for private industry being the vanguard of permanent space industry and habitation, that is probably how things will go. Just remember that corporations may not be terribly forthcoming about any new technological innovations or scientific discoveries unless they will make a lot of money and prestige for them.

    I worry about what might happen if a space company finds evidence of life on Mars as one example. Suppose the discovery is right where they want to build a manufacturing plant and a Martian microbe or fossil will put a halt to that. Will the company abide by the rules and give humanity its first proof of alien life? Or will they look at the costs of delaying or losing that plant and decide to literally bulldoze the evidence into oblivion?

    Again, please tell me I am wrong and just being paranoid. That our future in space will be just like in Star Trek where no one needs money and everyone is happy career-wise while we explore and settle the galaxy in warp drive starships. And it will all come about after a nuclear war in the mid-21st Century.

  • Alex Tolley July 21, 2014, 15:50

    @ljk – non-productive was a softer term for negative long term return on investment. Art (cap. A) generally is just consumptive. Thus you spend your assets to obtain it, and generally it won’t subsequently increase those assets. Science may have positive ROI, although this varies. You can see the difference between corporate research vs government research. The former is focused on getting subsequent +ve ROI.

    It should therefore be obvious that for long term sustainability, ROI of any activity must be position, otherwise the society just consumes its wealth. Space development is not a small undertaking, and while “spin offs” have been good, I would challenge you to show that technology developed since 1970 has even remotely paid for the cost of space activities since then. I would contend that at this point, human spaceflight is consumption, not production. That isn’t to say that it is useless, nor that it doesn’t pay back in difficult to value, non-tangibles.

    Star Trek is a fantasy. Somewhere someone/something is producing the goods that support the population. price signals need to be generated to decide on what to do that makes most sense with resources, even in a universe where resources are not nearly so limited. Was Picard’s brother’s vineyard really not selling their wines? And what of all those trader’s like Harry Mudd, why were they in business if there was no currency or means of getting paid for their merchandise?

    BTW, if Art is productive, explain what a $10,000,000 Picasso will produce for its owner?

    High aspirations are best based on a stable, underlying, economic structure. We can travel by car, train, boat or plane because this is true, and use any of these machines to indulge in all sorts of non-commercial activity. I don’t see why spaceflight should be any different. IMO, that is a good, not bad, thing.

  • NS July 22, 2014, 0:41

    A little OT, but IIRC the economy of the 23rd century original series Star Trek is a very advanced version of ours. The ills we suffer from (poverty, crime, disease) have been mostly eliminated, but people still seem to have to work for a living.

    The occasional descriptions of the 24th century Next Generation/Deep Space 9/Voyager Star Trek economy make it sound as though energy and resources are essentially unlimited, and therefore almost free. People work (if at all) for “self improvement” rather than wealth or survival.

    As a boy I was a big fan of the original series, but didn’t pay much attention to any of them later. I liked some of Deep Space 9. Didn’t care much for the Next Generation and loathed Voyager, what I saw of them anyway. Hardly noticed “Enterprise”.

  • ljk July 22, 2014, 11:35

    NASA Releases Space Commerce Monograph

    Status Report – Source: NASA

    Posted July 21, 2014 11:16 AM

    NASA has released a new monograph “Historical Analogs for the Stimulation of Space Commerce” in the Monographs in Aerospace History series (no. 54).

    With the rise of a range of private-sector entrepreneurial firms interested in pursuing space commerce, the process whereby their efforts might be incubated, fostered, and expanded comes to the fore as an important public policy concern in a way never before present in the Space Age. In the United States we are witnessing the convergence of several powerful economic forces, including the need to restore American capability to reach low-Earth orbit (LEO) for the servicing of the International Space Station (ISS) and the rise of a hospitality/tourism/entertainment industry interested in space.

    Through these case studies, we explore how to apply more effectively already-tested models of government support for commercial activities, as well as the interactions of both the public and private spheres in a new opportunity zone in space. In each case, a summation yields a range of key points.


  • ljk July 22, 2014, 12:01

    New Fort Knox: A means to a solar-system-wide economy

    While space advocates are never short of bold visions for future space development projects, funding them has long been a major challenge. Richard Godwin offers one approach to bootstrap long-term use of space resources though smaller initial steps and a key financial measure.

    Monday, July 21, 2014


    Review: No Requiem for the Space Age

    Forty-five years after Apollo 11, people still contemplate why that historic mission didn’t open a new era of space exploration. Jeff Foust reviews a book that argues that Apollo, and human space exploration, were victims of a change in cultures in America at the time of the Moon landing.

    Monday, July 21, 2014


  • Alex Tolley July 22, 2014, 16:51

    @ljk – I agree in principle with what Foust is saying in the “Fort Knox…” article. It may not be hugely aspirational (but apparently Apollo wasn’t to many people either – and I lived though that zeitgeist) but it lays solid foundations that can support the aspirational voyages. To use the analogy from aviation – it was the commercial aircraft industry that allowed the aspirational flights of Earhart, Lindbergh and others. (Of course it was cheaper too, but still required wealthy patronage).

  • Joëlle B. July 22, 2014, 18:55


    I am not suggesting the space community lie to get what they want, rather create inventive situations that may initiate action, or gain the attention of people otherwise unexposed and/or uninterested in what is out there. There is so much actual space IN space that there’s definitely enough room to compensate those individuals who want to turn parts of it into a “playground” or vacation spot or whatever they want, and I mean, why shouldn’t they?

    It’s not like the same dangers of space aren’t a reality on Earth– albeit, we are still in space; the naturally disastrous forces of the world and universe can strike us down at any moment. The threat is so real that we now have no excuse to not focus ALL of our attention on it. Like I said before, the only real thing occupying people’s time seems to be their fellow man conniving behind their backs, inciting fear of death and loss of freedom that requires them to keep three eyes looking over their shoulders, because there surely isn’t another animal we haven’t evaded or subdued to our will to leave the planet and set foot on other worlds. Other organisms sent from Earth into space don’t seem to be coming together to voice an active opinion against space travel, so maybe they’re on to something.

    I will give credit to the space community for honesty (with exception to the Apollo 15 postage stamp incident ^^), but fortunately, human communication has obtained a slick gift of stretching out meanings to capture the long reaches of the receiver’s imagination, in addition to the fact that space is wholly unregulated by our species, so anything moving to or fro, in and out of the atmosphere or the orbital neighborhood can be taken advantage of… at least as of right now, if you know what I’m sayin’. Commander Shelton of the U.S. Air Force makes this very clear at about 29:21 of this video: http://www.c-span.org/video/?311602-1/threats-asteroids-meteors

    It needs to get more ambitious, more aggressive, and less babied by commercial, academic, or governmental agencies. You are right, if institutionalized education wasn’t so crappy, then maybe we would be seeing rogue astronauts or the Anakin Skywalker types surface instead of having to rely on the above facets of medium to enter into the active space community. The most exciting thing, at this point, and what we need, would be a Palpatine or a better example would be an Admiral Valdore and Senator Vrax. :)

  • NS July 22, 2014, 23:24

    The U.S. today is much wealthier than it was 50 years ago, yet it seems (if you believe what some “leaders” tell us) that we can no longer afford old-age pensions, health care, college, or civil rights, much less space exploration. It’s no coincidence that these things rose and fell together. All were products of big government New Deal/New Frontier/Great Society liberalism, and only a return to that (hopefully minus the accompanying militarism that in part destroyed it) or something even more progressive can restore them.

  • ljk July 23, 2014, 12:43

    Joëlle B. said on July 22, 2014 at 18:55:

    “I am not suggesting the space community lie to get what they want, rather create inventive situations that may initiate action, or gain the attention of people otherwise unexposed and/or uninterested in what is out there. There is so much actual space IN space that there’s definitely enough room to compensate those individuals who want to turn parts of it into a “playground” or vacation spot or whatever they want, and I mean, why shouldn’t they?”

    The Universe is an utterly fascinating place even with our severe lack of actual evidence about much of it, including and especially alien life, smart or otherwise.

    That many in the public do not get or are aware of this leads me to point the finger at educators and scientists who fail to get this across. I know not everyone is a Carl Sagan but working together to educate might make a difference. Or maybe people really just don’t get it no matter what.

    Turning space into a vacation spot might bring in some money, but will this make such folks appreciate the Universe better? Or will it just be another place people thing they have manifest destiny over?

  • Joëlle B. July 24, 2014, 10:33

    From a personal, retrospective point-of-view, I only truly gained my own appreciation and reverence for the universe once I became educated on the very basic understanding of its expansion with a focus specifically on the countdowns involved in our own system to worry about (i.e. stellar evolution), combined with the new found discoveries of the myriad of planets which have very high probabilities of harboring and/or sustaining life in the same way we know it. I am in many ways indebted to and thankful for the Kepler mission and others who have laid the foundations for Exoplanetology and Astrobiology [both of these -logia were absent from my browser’s dictionary, ironically].

    Before, I had a very religious upbringing which in many ways crippled my understanding of history, science and time–in that, if one develops habits from a scientifically erroneous/out-of-date belief system, it becomes difficult to absorb scientific knowledge in an unbiased, productive manner (at least, initially). When one is told from a small child to believe in some sort of magically mysterious superhero coming to save you from all of the perils of the universe (and you’re convincingly coerced), it gets really easy to dust off the wondrous discoveries being made in this exciting time we live in; they’re just realized as some unimportant group of studies that won’t mean anything to you in the long run (when in all actuality, the situation is quite the exact opposite!). But thankfully, as such a time permits, it is superbly easier to gain exposure to information that say, 2000 years ago, our ancestors didn’t have the leisure to share in with one another.

    The first problem encountered in the breakaway from this process is a pattern of thinking that you are being too impatient; but once it is understood that 2000 years is like nothing compared to the ages of our planet and visible universe, it gets easier to shed the doubts burdening the mind and embrace learning in a new, refreshing way. One then finds themselves in a very logical place of thought, slowly flowing into an enlightening, unburdened mind with proactive ideas in one’s plight with each newly acquired particle of information–like, ‘if this dude never comes back, at least I won’t look like a dishonorable fool for realizing I can maybe save myself and some other lifeforms from getting wiped out by interstellar phenomena.’

    And then, once that’s out of the way, thanks to the nifty contributions from quantum thinkers, one begins to understand the depth of existence just may allow anything of the imagination as possible. The imagination [not the spaceship :D] is a powerful tool… so powerful, that I just may be free… very free… too free… And that’s awesome; now the showdown can begin.”

    “That many in the public do not get or are aware of this leads me to point the finger at educators and scientists who fail to get this across. I know not everyone is a Carl Sagan but working together to educate might make a difference. Or maybe people really just don’t get it no matter what.

    Turning space into a vacation spot might bring in some money, but will this make such folks appreciate the Universe better? Or will it just be another place people thing they have manifest destiny over?”

    Truthfully, if it wasn’t for Carl Sagan, television and the internet, I would probably still be in a misguided predicament. By way of the NOVA television series and remembering Neil deGrasse Tyson’s face from my childhood, I was curious one day (now older and in my teens at this point) while watching streaming media on the internet and thankfully clicked on his image to a video [face perception for the win :)]. Watched it, and then became more curious about the things in that video Neil talked about, eventually leading me to Carl and then, ultimately, a passion for the universe.

    I have no care for money, and I don’t think the idea of vacation requires it or even suggests it. Vacation is purely for enjoyment, for delight, for appreciation; the acquisition or expending of resources as a result is an added bonus of survival, of life. As for manifest destiny, I don’t care about that either–if someone believes they should manifest their own imagination into the expanses of the universe, more power to them. My point is, everyone and everything is free to do as they envision, as they please. I will not stop them, or be against them, but if I choose to change my mind, I am free to do that also. And that’s what’s so great about the universe, I think. :)
    NS said on July 22, 2014 at 23:24

    “or something even more progressive can restore them.”

    I agree. Those characters of our fantasies, e.x. the Jedi, Vulcans, or even (formerly, and influentially) the heroes in our mythologies and religions represent our desire to progress and establish prosperous civilization. If not for the evolution of these ideals, the U.S. or Russia would not even exist, and therefore, the moon landing or even manned space exploration probably wouldn’t have happened. Earth’s resources are finite, at least for our species as of right now (maybe at another time that will be able to change, however unlikely it may seem). Consequently, I think the first step in the right direction is establishing a habitable presence anywhere else, sooner than later.

    If someone like myself can become passionate about space just by randomly watching NOVA one day, I don’t think it is that people don’t care “no matter what”, as ljk has questioned. The universe is inside us: it will capture our eyes and minds in the deepest way possible. We all crawl before we walk, so I think with persistent (and continuous) exposure in as many mediums as possible, all that it will take is time (trying our darnedest not to run out of it). We have progressed so very far, already, so there’s a lot to be optimistic about, at least.

  • ljk July 25, 2014, 9:55

    Apollo 11 and the World’s Reaction

    Posted on July 25, 2014

    By Roger Launius

    When the Apollo 11 spacecraft lifted off on July 16, 1969, for the Moon, it signaled a climactic instance in human history. Reaching the Moon on July 20, it’s Lunar Module—with astronauts Neil A. Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin aboard—landed on the while Michael Collins orbited overhead in the Apollo command module.

    Armstrong soon set foot on the surface, telling millions on Earth that it was “one small step for [a] man—one giant leap for mankind.” Aldrin soon followed him out and the two planted an American flag but omitted claiming the land for the U.S. as had been routinely done during European exploration of the Americas, collected soil and rock samples, and set up scientific experiments. The next day they returned to the Apollo capsule overhead and returned to Earth, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean on July 24.

    This flight to the Moon received great scrutiny. “This is the greatest week in the history of the world since Creation,” President Richard M. Nixon enthused upon greeting the Apollo 11 crew when they returned from the Moon. Christopher Flournoy recalled that as a five-year-old when the mission occurred he may not have understood much of what took place but nonetheless was excited by the experience. He remembered his father saying that “he was never more proud of being an American than on the day our flag flew on the Moon.” One seven-year-old boy from San Juan, Puerto Rico, said of the first Moon landing: “I kept racing between the TV and the balcony and looking at the Moon to see if I could see them on the Moon.” These experiences were typical.

    Full article here:


    And from the same author:


    To quote:

    Third, Project Apollo forced the people of the world to view the planet Earth in a new way. Apollo 8 was critical to this sea change, for on its outward voyage, the crew focused a portable television camera on Earth and for the first time humanity saw its home from afar, a tiny, lovely, and fragile “blue marble” hanging in the blackness of space. When the Apollo 8 spacecraft arrived at the Moon on Christmas Eve of 1968 the image of Earth was even more strongly reinforced when the crew sent images of the planet back. Writer Archibald MacLeish summed up the feelings of many people when he wrote at the time of Apollo that “To see the Earth as it truly is, small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence where it floats, is to see ourselves as riders on the Earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in the eternal cold, brothers who know now that they are truly brothers.” The modern environmental movement was galvanized in part by this new perception of the planet and the need to protect it and the life that it supports.

    Finally, the Apollo program, while an enormous achievement, left a divided legacy for NASA and the aerospace community. The perceived “golden age” of Apollo created for the agency an expectation that the direction of any major space goal from the president would always bring NASA a broad consensus of support and provide it with the resources and license to dispense them as it saw fit. Something most NASA officials did not understand at the time of the Moon landing in 1969, however, was that Apollo had not been a normal situation and would not be repeated. The Apollo decision was, therefore, an anomaly in the national decision-making process. The dilemma of the “golden age” of Apollo has been difficult to overcome, but moving beyond the Apollo program to embrace future opportunities has been an important goal of the agency’s leadership in the recent past. Exploration of the Solar System and the universe remains as enticing a goal and as important an objective for humanity as it ever has been.

    Project Apollo was an important early step in that ongoing process of space exploration

  • ljk July 28, 2014, 10:17

    50 Years Ago Today: The Launch of Ranger 7

    By Andrew Lepage

    July 28, 2014

    Looking at NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) which has been in orbit around the Moon for over five years now, people today might take it for granted that lunar missions are fairly routine affairs that are virtually guaranteed to be successful. But nothing could be further from the truth.

    While NASA’s recent lunar missions have been quite successful and make lunar missions look easy, these successes require a lot of work and come at the expense of many early lunar mission failures. As the Chinese are now learning with their trouble with the Yutu rover mission, successful lunar missions require the mastery of many new technologies, engineering techniques and project management skills – things that NASA learned the hard way a half a century ago.

    Full article here:


  • ljk August 19, 2014, 13:18

    The cosmos in a cornfield

    When it comes to space museums, people most likely think of the National Air and Space Museum or one of the NASA visitor centers. Dwayne Day describes the impressive collection of artifacts that can be found in a museum located right in the middle of the country.

    Monday, August 18, 2014


  • ljk August 25, 2014, 13:47

    Orbital manoeuvres in the dark: Apollo 11’s UFO

    A new biography of Neil Armstrong offers an answer to a question raised by the Apollo 11 mission: what was the flashing light astronauts reported seeing trailing their spacecraft on the way to the Moon? Dwayne Day examines if that answer makes sense.

    Monday, August 25, 2014


  • ljk December 23, 2014, 12:16

    Wednesday’s Book Review: “Neil Armstrong: A Life of Flight”

    Posted on December 3, 2014

    Neil Armstrong: A Life of Flight. By Jay Barbree. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin’s Press, 2014. Introduction by John Glenn. Illustrations. 517 pages. ISBN: 978-1250040718. $19.68 USD. Hardcover with dustjacket.

    Whatever else Jay Barbree’s Neil Armstrong: A Life of Flight might be, it is not a biography of Neil Armstrong (1930-2012). There is only small insight into his beliefs, desires, loves, or hates. There is little discussion of his family and his goals. There is even less about his early years, only a cursory exploration of his Korean War experience, and nothing to speak of about his lengthy and significant activities since ending his career as a NASA astronaut in the early 1970s.

    What is present is largely generic information about early NASA, especially an almost mission-by-mission summary of the Apollo program with an often tenuous relationship to Neil Armstrong. To his credit, Barbree offers a number of observations about the nature of human spaceflight throughout the last half century and a few sometimes humorous and insightful stories. Unfortunately, these mostly have little to do with Neil Armstrong even as they offer useful perceptions.

    Full article here:


  • ljk December 23, 2014, 12:17

    Some evidence that astronauts are human beings, not demigods: