Episode 577: The Moon Landing Wasn’t NOT Staged

On the Overthinking It Podcast, we tackle the Moon Landing, its meaning, and its legacy.

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Peter Fenzel, Mark Lee, and Matthew Wrather overthink the moon landing on its anniversary—what it meant at the time and now, what sort of moral judgements we can make about it in our woke age, and whether “moon shot” projects are even possible anymore.

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11 Comments on “Episode 577: The Moon Landing Wasn’t NOT Staged”

  1. MikeO #

    Space exploration and utilization is a positive. But space colonization, and the mindset around it – and I’m not being hyperbolic here – is pure evil.
    1. We already live in a world that has commoditized the very land we walk on, and the water we are made up of. Now imagine an unelected, uncaring, unfeeling immortal multinational (now multiplanetary) organization selling you the air you breathe. Space colonization is a totalitarians dream. You’re living in a coffin entirely reliant and subservient to the power that is keeping you alive. You will never be as safe, and free as you’d be on earth. Because in space someone just has to push one button and you’re dead.
    2. The current idea that we can “escape” all our problems on earth and start over somewhere is a dangerous one. It allows people to be complacent and tolerant of current attempts to destroy the planet, and society. “It’s okay, we’ll just move in a couple decades.”. If you can’t stop the corruption and pollution at home, what makes you think it will be any different abroad? It’ll be worse. If you can’t fix the problems at home, then you shouldn’t be expanding at all. If you can fix the problems at home, then there’s no reason for expansion. I can see a future where some eco-leftists become more radicalized and attempt to sabotage any space colonization efforts to force people to fix the problems at home.

    Some remarks were made to the effect that censorship is needed in order to unify thinking and goals. Oh boy, couldn’t disagree more. I don’t want to give anyone (unelected moguls or clandestine agencies) the power to censor, and mold public thoughts/actions.

    Some people say that the space programs have benefited humanity materially. Usually it’s the same arguments made by War proponents “Look at all the stuff we got from it!”. Well, duh. If a centralized body is able to utilize an obscene amount of wealth, and human minds and bodies, yeah, they’ll be able to accomplish things quickly. If California conscripted all able bodied people, and utilized 50% of their GDP towards a 5 year plan, they alone could fix any of the worlds problems – global warming, cancer, you name. But I’d rather not do it that way. Not just because the process is wasteful, but I argue the wrong problems are being tackled. Use cancer for example. Perhaps direct attention away from the MICROSCOPE and take a MACROSCOPE view. Are we experiencing more cancer than is natural? Is this caused by pollution and poor lifestyles? Who are the people and agencies responsible for the pollution and pushing these unhealthy lifestyles? Is it real so much easier to develop new sciences instead of removing these people?


    • Margo #

      The solutions you mention require changes in Policy, and implementing the science and technology we already have. This is part of what makes the discussion around climate change so frustrating.

      We are going to have problems on Earth whether we explore space or not, so we might as well explore. A Billion Dollars not spent on Space Travel doesn’t automatically provide a billion dollars towards ending poverty, curing cancer, or some other noble goal. And even the most ambitious space program will be only a fraction of what is currently spent on the military.

      Another benefit of going to Mars is that there is no intelligent indigenous life to disrupt. That we are aware of.


      • stokes #

        > “… there is no intelligent indigenous life to disrupt…”
        This is a reaaaaallly interesting point, because it drives home the fact that *almost* all of the macroeconomically important exploration that Europe did back in the good/bad old days involved stealing stuff from other cultures. (There are a handful of places that had valuable resources and no people, like the Caribbean guano islands, but for the most part if a piece of land was worth claiming there were already people there claiming it.)
        Which means that going to the moon is a lot less like colonial exploration, and a lot more like the race to the north pole, or climbing Mt. Everest. These were never money-*making* propositions.

        Surely this means that, in time, space exploration will become what Everest has become today: just another way for rich people with more money than sense to burn up their fortunes.

        Oh wait, that’s happened already hasn’t it.


        • Three Act Destructure #

          With the opportunities for mining and new patents on technology in a diverse array of fields, I don’t think that’s going to be quite true of space exploration. Also, doesn’t every nation want to be able to launch weapons from the Moon?

          Also, can I just say that Everest isn’t that far off from other colonial pursuits? I mean, it ain’t exactly great being a sherpa: https://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2018/04/14/599417489/one-third-of-everest-deaths-are-sherpa-climbers


          • stokes #

            I… do not think we are going to be mining stuff from the moon. Like, prove me wrong, I am happy to be proven wrong, but lifting a pound of something into orbit costs what, ten thousand dollars? So to make moon-mining effective, we would need to do that… plus pay for a full scale mining operation ON the moon. (Which *probably* means paying a bunch of moon-miners horrible wages to get themselves horribly killed in space.) The only way I see this happening is if 1) we make astonishing breakthroughs in spaceflight technology, such that flying to the moon is cheap and easy, AND 2) we literally use up the earth’s entire supply of the stuff that we’re mining.

            As to Everest being colonialism-adjacent, for sure — but that’s, like, piecework colonialism, which doesn’t have a big dramatic effect for the citizens of the imperial power. When Amundsen beat Scott to the South Pole, this did not have the same kind of effect on the average Norweigan as, say, the conquest of India had on the average Briton. I’m sure they were excited about it, and who knows, maybe there were some dogsled patents. But it didn’t transform their whole economy.

          • Three Act Destructure #

            Once we get far enough down in a comment chain, the ability to reply to the latest comment goes away. Not sure why that is but I’ll just reply to my last comment and hope this still reads okay.

            Sorry, the thread seemed to have evolved into a more general one on space exploration as a whole. I agree that nobody’s going to be mining the moon. But by the point that we’re building real space colonies that are big enough to need representative government structures, as was being discussed in the highest-level comment? Yeah, we’ll be mining plenty. We’ll have to be. Even if it isn’t getting shipped back to Earth at that point.

            I think this conflation of ideas about what space travel means is muddying up this conversation. Yes, going back to the Moon is probably quite a bit like marching up Everest at this point. Same with launching a car into space.

            Building an entire civilization across multiple planets, well, that’s a little more and things get progressively wilder from there.

          • Matthew Wrather OTI Staff #

            Mostly UI. Past 5 levels deep it’s too indented.

    • Three Act Destructure #

      There’s actually a great old Judge Dredd story about a bunch of criminals on a lunar colony who escape the law only to come home and get killed because they haven’t paid their oxygen bill. The Judges find them all asphyxiated in their hideout. Neat sci-fi and depressingly plausible.

      Anyways, I’d like to tackle a few of your points here because I think that they’re interesting but working from what I believe are flawed premises. Firstly, space colonization is a fluid concept. There are already ideas about how to 3D print bases for long-term living. This could easily turn colonization into a more libertarian pursuit, like westward expansion was, until larger cities are developed. But by that point it’s also quite likely that we’d have the capacity to develop those… wherever. Once a pretty mobile (read: fairly small) unit of, let’s say, a hundred or so people can create and govern a new and workable facility at any time then why not just hook onto the closest mineable rock out there and be a floating colony? We’ll be utilizing so few of the resources of any planet that we land on within our own solar system that we’ll essentially be self-sustaining even if we’re adrift. How would that lead to an even more oppressive government?

      I’m not really sure what an “eco-leftist” is but considering that nearly the entirety of terrorism is from right-wing sources, typically religiously motivated, I imagine that we’ll just continue to deal with the same crappy people as we always have.

      As far as censorship goes, I always find that to be a really interesting boogeyman. You can see that there are, for example, right-wing media outlets who will decry censorship all day long, but then literally won’t air any dissenting opinions to their viewers: https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/cumulus-media-refuses-to-air-pete-buttigieg-interview-861706/

      Besides that, the moderation of ideas is not censorship. It’s how you were taught which language you speak and write in. Which is a decision that you did not make for yourself but which has forever affected your life and kept you far away from a lot of interesting ideas and cultural concepts. We choose which ideas to keep and which to reject constantly. Our culture does the same. Sometimes they do it for us in a way that we like. Sometimes they don’t and we rebel. It’s a balancing act, not a monster threatening to silence you forever. Even in countries with straight-up censorship like America and China, not only are there ways around it but the propaganda which replaces real thought only works if people are drinking that Kool-aid. And the sad truth is that people drinking it usually have something to gain for that sacrifice. I’m more worried about them, personally. The people who intentionally lie and spread false information because it benefits them in some way.

      As far as the Space Program goes, nobody here seems to know the actual cost. In today’s money, it was somewhere around 150 billion dollars. Wow! Crazy, right? Except that that was over about a decade.

      … and we spend about 600 BILLION DOLLARS on our military ANNUALLY. The Trump tax cuts are going to add 1 TRILLION dollars to the deficit over the next ten years. The F-35, a failed monstrosity of a jet, ended up costing our military 1.5 TRILLION alone. The mandatory budget spent on social security, medicare and medicaid costs us nearly 3 TRILLION annually (a price unreasonably jacked up by insurance companies; another reason to overhaul the way that we look at medical care in this country).

      (Source: https://www.thebalance.com/current-u-s-federal-government-spending-3305763)

      And for all that, what do we get? We don’t even have the largest standing army in the world (we’re behind both China and India), our military tech is either outdated or was essentially just a scam in the first place. We are trapped in a series of forever wars that only enrich a handful of people and we STILL don’t actually take care of our veterans. Meanwhile, we have underfunded the IRS to the point that it literally can’t tax the rich at all anymore: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/12/rich-people-are-getting-away-not-paying-their-taxes/577798/

      Man, getting to the Moon was cheap.

      And it gave us cellphones and satellites and a bunch of other technological advancements! It was a real investment in the future of this country. Maybe the last of its kind.

      As for your hypothetical about California? Again, I think that the premise is flawed. There’s a lot about those problems that can’t be solved without literally stripping away the sovereignty of places like China (a major contributor to global warming and worldwide pollution). But since you wanted to talk about micro vs. macro issues when it comes to health, let’s:


      California has the second highest life expectancy in the States. The top five, in fact, are all blue states. While the bottom five are all red states. It would seem that political party strength in your region is one of the greatest indicators of your personal health. Probably because Democrats are very, very good at doing exactly what you’re asking for: examining an issue from all angles before choosing the best course of action for their citizens as a solution.

      But hey, who knows what the future holds? Maybe our descendants will be arguing about this same B.S. on Mars one day.


  2. Margo #

    “The more they overthink the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain.”

    -Montgomery Scott, The Search For Spock.

    One of the many lessons we can take from 2001: A Space Odyssey is that there is a benefit to keeping a lot of the literal nuts and bolts analog. An astronaut on her way to Mars should be able to fix a leak with a screwdriver and a wrench, not a lengthy call to tech support.

    “If you are experiencing a radiation leak, please press one.”

    Fun fact: The Apollo 11 computer had a memory of 74k, according to a lecture I once went to.


  3. John C Member #

    The critical point to understanding Chairface Chippendale, for people who are confused by the concept, is that he was introduced as an arch-enemy of a minor character who was a spoof of Dick Tracy. The character works without that context, but…well, here, see for yourself: https://www.dicktracymuseum.com/new-page-1
    Anyway, I sometimes wonder if the main reason we no longer see projects like the Moon landing is that economic reality has fundamentally changed. The Industrial Age required enormous concentrations of capital to get anything done, hence the endless debates (and wars) over capitalism versus socialism, both notably usually implemented as unelected totalitarians (management or party leaders) deciding what everybody should do. But that’s not really where we live anymore, even though corporations won’t go away. We know more about the world, plus the means of production are easier to distribute, plus it’s easier to find partners without disrupting the people who don’t care.
    I mean, the unmanned Chandrayaan-2 recently launched and its budget was still about half of Apollo 11’s 1960s price and comparable price (again, ignoring inflation) to the Surveyor probes, which is incredible. Meanwhile, you have high school and college students putting “CubeSats” into orbit for a couple thousand bucks a pop. Neither is the same as getting people to the Moon and back home, but probably better contrasted to a decade prior to the Moon landing; putting individuals in the position of superpowers sixty years ago is impressive.
    And that’s just space. Journalism, software, plenty of kinds of scientific research, movie production, even (arguably, and no matter how stupid cryptocurrencies are) entire economies are now things that people with time can do a reasonably good job at on the cheap. And good renewable energy and better software means that a lot more is in reach every year. That doesn’t even get into weirdness like CRISPR. Which is all just a (very) long way around saying that maybe it no longer takes three percent of a superpower’s GDP and massive buy-in to get things done. It’s not hard to imagine a near-future where the only thing stopping a high school asteroid project is FAA clearance for the launch.
    But, then, upgrading the infrastructure (if we weren’t caught between robber barons and neoliberals as leaders) could also be that sort of project, because we can’t quite automate it away. Laying out smart roads, converting everybody to solar and wind power, pushing universal broadband, and so forth might qualify and could get a lot of the country’s population excited.
    And it might also be worth creating useless goals of that magnitude, even if not, because (as mentioned on the podcast) landing on the Moon is an artificial problem that requires solving a bunch of problems that also exist in another context. And those solutions, by being under the banner of the Federal government, are released into the economy where we can all benefit from and build on them, to a point where a lot of the estimates suggest that the Apollo program’s return on investment of tax dollars was somewhere in the neighborhood of fifteen-to-one and NASA routinely being at least seven-to-one. And that includes wasting money on a new logo that got thrown out in favor of the clumsiest bit of graphic design in common use.
    Regarding using spreadsheets for project management, I forget where I got the pieces of the idea from, but if it helps anyone else, I’ve always used a list of tasks with an optimistic estimate, a Murphy’s Law estimate, and the actual hours worked. If the pessimistic estimate is more than a few hours, that task is potentially too big and needs to be broken down. It’s rough work and feels like literal micromanaging, but you don’t actually care when most tasks get done as long as they do, and slogging through forces you to learn which questions to ask people to get the estimates, just by watching all the times you get things wrong, and it’s easy to see where estimates were wrong. For visible tasks, it’s sometimes nice to add a column for how much people want that task done, and compare that with the estimate to prioritize some easy-but-big wins and to recommend tasks to cut when the schedule changes.
    That all meandered through (like Twain said, I didn’t have time to write a short post, so…), I won’t send the requested nice e-mail, but I will say that the podcast (and now the e-mail with rejected titles) has been a thing I’ve looked forward to seeing Monday mornings for a while, and’ll probably continue as long as Paradise Lost, Highlander, and Terminator references are still fun for whatever cyborg monstrosities are hosting in the distant future…


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