Some thoughts on Apollo 11, and the American landing on the moon.

It’s been 50 years (and a few days) since the Apollo 11 mission took the first two men to the moon. I remember clearly (and I was rather young) the black and white grainy images and the US flag flying proudly on the moon, and hearing the crackly ‘One small step…’

I’m sure I was only one of millions of little kids who saw that and dreamed of going out there one day. I was already reading sf (and most of it was mediocre to bad science, but great entertainment, great dreams) so this helped my suspension of disbelief, as well filling me with awe, hero-worship and a life-long support for space exploration.

You might say that popular support for the space-race owed at least some of its existence to Science Fiction. That put the idea of its possibility into the minds not merely of scientists, but the public – and without that public support it could never have been. Putting men on the moon was a tremendous achievement, and from the effort flowed hundreds of inventions which made life – right across the globe – for humanity, just that bit more pleasant, more comfortable, safer and happier.

It’s something in our genre’s past worth looking up to and seeking to emulate.  The shoulders of giants to stand on, if you like. Or… a big ask to live up to, making one’s frail deeds and words seem rather inadequate. Perhaps this is why we’ve had this rash of ‘belittle and bad-mouth’ the moon-landing: when your achievements are tepid and irrelevant, the only way you can make them look any better is to try and denigrate the giants against whom you look a pygmy. It’s like the statue tearing-down: only worth doing if you have nothing worthy of a memorial yourself.

Whatever. There is no escaping the fact that we are where we are today because of great achievements in the past.  We don’t live in the past: that was a different country, with different mores: but we owe almost everything we have to it. Not all of that is ‘good’ (for current and personal values of good) but, compared to pretty much all the alternatives, it is a vast debt. It’s left the US with huge legacy – a little of which also spills onto its old allies.  Actually, despite all the PC nonsense and media hatred of the US and Western civilization in general – most of the world thinks that too: which is why migration flows the directions it does.

As writers we can help to shape the zeitgeist of tomorrow: even though most sf (especially in trad publishing) is little more than a mirror of the zeitgeist of their bubble – which is out of touch with today and well in the past.

Of course to have that sort of impact, not only does your book have to build new concepts and ideas, but it has to get them into the public awareness.  So if your book is being read only by a tiny group of the Woke, who are, in general, Ark B people, society’s telephone sanitizers and government drones, I guess your impact on the future is not going to be large, if it is existent at all.

On the other hand, if you’re getting read by the sort of people who will be tomorrow’s artisans, engineers and scientists, the thinkers and doers, well, maybe your legacy will be greater than you realize.  Of course it helps probabilities if that book is read by large numbers of people and these are not only from one sector of society (the world changes, the worm turns, the loser now may be later to win…)

If you want to change the world, forget Ark B, forget the narrowing purity spiral that is trad publishing, and aim for a different readership.  Otherwise, if you have no such ambitions (Jules Verne may well not have) but merely want a lot of readers, do likewise. Either way, you may well leave a mark on the future. It would be hard to leave a bigger one, but if you don’t try, you won’t succeed.

And here is to those brave men, and to those who got them there and home safely.

You shaped my life.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay


  1. Yeah, it does owe itself to SF… the old ” no bucks, no buck rogers” adage applies in reverse… that’s why the astronauts, esp the mercury seven, were all Big Damned Heroes and squeaky clean.

    I daresay the next big achievements in space are all going to be private sector, tho.

    1. I’m still laughing (in amused delight) at how excited people got when Elon Musk’s car is likely to miss Mars, and probably go to Jupiter or Saturn. There was a sense of joyous ‘OH THAT IS AMAZING how’d we do that can we do it again, deliberately next time’ that frankly, I remember getting the sense of when reading about exploration, discovery, and yes, the exploration of space.

      1. yeah, i get the feeling the next moon landing is going to be him landing his ship there just because he can.

  2. David, Growing up, I fervently believed in the future!. At age 9, my father took me to see 2001, and as little kid, that’s what I expected. By sophomore year in college (1979) I went through a trauma that 2001 would not be happening in 21 years. As I look back of predictive SF, neither did Neuromancer. As a 60-year old, I realize that living in the future is nothing like what SF described. I do maintain a technical curiosity of SF futures but they have become more an intellectual excercise than anything else. After a long career staying educated, I have my own what-if’s that are personally more interesting., and technical. When I read, it is for friendship. To hear an author’s vision and imagination, I respect people’s arguments, especially if there cogently stated. Divrersity of arguments, is to me, what good SF is all about,. From Heinlein to Scott a book is a friend.

  3. My father, John Aloysius O’Keefe, was a pioneer scientist at NASA and worked on the moon missions in various ways.

    The reason that the lunar landing modules had those large cups on the landing struts was that a particular scientist said that there would be dust forty feet deep and the astronauts were going to sink out of sight. O’Keefe knew intimately every picture that had been taken of the landing site. He went and found a picture that showed a small meteorite that had struck the moon and rolled down a little hill. You could see the track it made as it rolled in the inches of dust. He took it to Armstrong and said, ***take a look and don’t worry***.

    When O’Keefe was forcibly retired at the age of 80 there was a big todo and all his associates over the years were invited to send in comments or memories. Armstrong wrote. ***I remember you. You gave us courage.***

    My father claimed that he was inspired at a young age from reading Thuvia, Maid of Mars, ERB.

  4. Of course Neuromancer happened! Look at all the tattoos and piercings!

    No joke – the number one reason that I could not stand cyberpunk was that the idea of everyone being rattled and pierced was gross to me, like self-hatred walking the streets. And now everybody is walking around like that.

    On the bright side, the Cyberpunk videogame trailer was not nearly as gross to me as it once would have been.

  5. I was in front of the TV when it happened, but my parents won’t swear to my having stayed awake.

  6. You can watch the Apollo 11 mission in realtime (+50 years) at

    This has the ground-to-space communications, the internal mission control conversations, the onboard spacecraft recordings, the photos, movies, and TV from the mission, all synchronized perfectly with transcripts and explanations of the terms. And bookmarked, so you can find major events easily. You can click in the timeline to watch any segment of the mission in any order, or click a button and synchronize it to “realtime + 50 years”. If you do that, they’re coasting back to earth now, and reentry is on Wednesday.

    Fair warning: for space geeks, this can be as addictive as TV-Tropes.

  7. Sigh. I turned 14 the day Apollo 11 took off.

    When I grew up, I went to work on the Shuttle program. I was at JSC for the tenth anniversary of Apollo 11. If you told me then by the 50th anniversary humans would never have gotten more than 350 miles from the Earth’s surface I would have laughed. We had been to the Moon only ten years earlier.

    And yet here we are. NASA is more concerned about not failing than about succeeding. And the only way you can guarantee you do not fail is not to try.

    I spent 30 years in the Shuttle program – and doing occasional space station and interplanetary work. And here we are, stuck in LEO, and as far from getting to the Moon as we were in 1961 – or maybe 1957,

  8. I was 10 at the time of Apollo 11. I kept up with the space program with great interest, even though I developed type 1 diabetes in the Spring of 1969 and lost my goal of becoming an astronaut. I went to university in physics , astronomy and math and joined the L-5 Society my junior year, which allowed me to attend the 20th anniversary of Explorer 1 in Huntsville in 1978. I am sure NASA’s fear of success was well rooted at that time, but meeting a few of the older German rocket scientists gave me a broader interest in expanding my scientific background and developing my contacts. I taught a while after graduation and eventually moved into Health Physics of which I am thankful. I look forward to seeing what Elon Musk can accomplish and I personally have seen how the technology developed for the space program has influenced my ability to manage my diabetes and without which, I would never have gotten so far.

  9. which made life – right across the globe – for humanity, just that bit more pleasant, more comfortable, safer and happier.
    Well, I’m glad you put that limiter on there. ‘Cause I’m sure it didn’t do much for making the Moon People more comfortable or happier or safer. We landed on their roof, poked a hole in it, then drove around on it for a while. *smh*

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