The Dish

The 2000 movie The Dish tells the story of Parkes Observatory in Australia used during the Apollo 11 mission to receive television pictures as Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon and into history. High winds threatened the reception of the moon-walk video as the receiving dish was deployed beyond the wind stresses the dish was certified to take. The movie may have taken a few poetic liberties in the retelling of the story and a more complete history can be found at Parkes Observatory Web Site.

Nonetheless, the movie does capture the sense of the collective international endeavor of the moon trips. President Kennedy’s challenge to travel to the moon within a decade certainly began as a Cold War stunt, but rapidly grew out of its mercenary origins. By the time Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin walked on the moon, much of the world was intensely hopeful and interested in their progress. As for many other people, the small-town Australians living in the immediate vicinity of Parkes took a vicarious pleasure and pride in the historic role they were playing.

The story also stands as a contradiction to the intellectually-pure, hard-hearted, chest-beating Libertarian view-point. While it is clear that the free market is probably the most efficient expedient for allocating resources, it is not the only value to consider. Contributing to an enterprise larger in scope than immediate and personal self-interest can serve to the important purpose of cementing a community, a nation, and even the world.

For many of a certain age, the mission to the moon was a life-altering experience that permanently affected the way the world is viewed. For another generation, the Great Depression or World War II remains as the collective enterprise or experience that helps define a particular generational perspective.

Unfortunately, such times and moments cannot be easily contrived. Perhaps they cannot be deliberately contrived at all. Renewing a space program as ambitious for our time as the Apollo missions were for their time would probably prove too divisive as different groups vie for resources. Certainly a war or depression offers no pleasant prospect.

As this current generation idles in relative and desultory prosperity, one wonders what if any collective perspective will help define us.

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