Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A second Apollo 11 Anniversary

It's the real one today, in a few minutes actually. I jumped the gun yesterday.

My colleague Brendan Nicholson and I are amazed that it could ever have happened - far more amazed than we were at the time.

I guess it was normalised back then, at least to primary school children.

Another observation, something Jacob Vigdor said when he spoke to the ANU about computers in education the other day:

Now, the policy goal is no child left behind. We evaluate learning tools by how much they lift poorly-performing students out of illiteracy and innumeracy.

Then, during the space race, the policy goal was extreme excellence - getting the top kids further ahead, espcially in physics and maths. We evaluated learning tools by the extent to which they succeeded in leaving the performing-performing students behind.

And now for the best summation:

Tom Wolfe - author of The Right Stuff, which I heartily recommend as a movie.

Read this, if you read nothing else about that day 40 years ago:

One Giant Leap to Nowhere


WELL, let’s see now ... That was a small step for Neil Armstrong, a giant leap for mankind and a real knee in the groin for NASA.

The American space program, the greatest, grandest, most Promethean — O.K. if I add “godlike”? — quest in the history of the world, died in infancy at 10:56 p.m. New York time on July 20, 1969, the moment the foot of Apollo 11’s Commander Armstrong touched the surface of the Moon.

It was no ordinary dead-and-be-done-with-it death. It was full-blown purgatory, purgatory being the holding pen for recently deceased but still restless souls awaiting judgment by a Higher Authority.

Like many another youngster at that time, or maybe retro-youngster in my case, I was fascinated by the astronauts after Apollo 11. I even dared to dream of writing a book about them someday. If anyone had told me in July 1969 that the sound of Neil Armstrong’s small step plus mankind’s big one was the shuffle of pallbearers at graveside, I would have averted my eyes and shaken my head in pity. Poor guy’s bucket’s got a hole in it...

Continued in the NYT

HT: Mark Colvin