It is something to stand in the room to which “Houston, we have a problem!” was addressed.
It is history.
But it is also Heath-Robinsonesque beyond belief: the flickery cathode-ray-monitors predate keyboards; the clunker consoles house rotary phones; and everything shrieks “60s”. Your car’s electric key fob handily out-powers all their supporting mainframes combined. And the Pentagon’s assigned eerie in that room, perched where it could see and not be seen at the other end of the back row from Public Liason, could have been conjured up by Le Carré.
Nearby, the Saturn 5 and Space Shuttle innards lie open to view, their spaghetti wiring reminiscent of stepping into the attic of a just-deceased tinkerer and wondering “What on earth am I going to do with all this?” They made it back from the moon with “all this”.
And “gnat in the Grand Canyon” does not even begin to convey the miniscule irrevelevance of the cramped modules even in just the edge of space into which they were flung.
But “Mission Control”, no; rather “Not in Control of Mission”.
Once those fireballs ignited, the furrow-browed, white-starched, short-cropped geeks who crammed into that room in black-and-white were for all intents and purposes gawking bystanders like the rest of us, just hoping it would work. Astronauts flew—sat precariously atop—giant exploding tin cans: it’s not rocket science, it’s borderline miraculous that so many lived to tell the tale.
All the same, we may come to look back on them less kindly.
After all, the 16th Century was similarly awestruck by the likes of Pedro Menéndez de Avilés and Sir Francis Drake as they ventured to the edge of the New World.
But they are now seen, at least by those who care to know, as ISIS-like predators at the behest of Monstrous Calculating Religious Bigots—Henry Tudor was lopping his wives’ heads off and the Inquisition was in full swing at the time—serving power-avarice above all, poisoning the vast New Eden with their fetid diseases and racial animus.
Similarly, it was not Kennedy but Nixon who signed the declaration “We came in Peace” which Neil Armstrong left on the moon on our behalf, and it was not peace but our death-rattle with the Soviet Union which catapulted him there—hence Pentagon oversight. The first message we left on another world addressed to other life is a lie. Native Americans understand.
True, when its compulsively self-destructive pathology crested in the 20th Century, engulfing the planet in wars—two hot and one cold—the Old World was rescued on all three occasions by the New.
Perhaps the Final Frontier will eventually come to do the same for us.
But those three rescues would not have been possible without the relative size of and distance between the Old and the New Worlds.
So perhaps it’s just as well that the Universe, ruled by Dark Energy, is not only expanding as we encroach upon it but is accelerating away from us as we do. If past is prologue, the survival of our sick species may ultimately depend on the Final Frontier never being final.