What Neil Armstrong got wrong
Technologyreview.com - Thu 27 Jun 01:55 GMT

Space technology has changed the world—but not in the way the dreamers of the 1960s imagined it would

What Neil Armstrong got wrong

  As Roger Launius, an eminent space historian, writes in his new book Apollo’s Legacy, “At a basic level, the president’s Apollo decision was to the United States what the pharaohs’ determination to build the pyramids was to Egypt.”

  It is thanks to these sorts of systems that even though humanity hasn’t returned to the moon since 1972, there has been slow and steady progress in human spaceflight, remarkable robotic exploration of the solar system, and—perhaps most important—a profound reordering of life on Earth by satellites orbiting it.

  The International Space Station (ISS), too, is laughably over the originally promised budget, for negligible scientific return—but if human spaceflight eventually becomes common, the ISS data on how to keep people alive and healthy in space for long periods will begin to look valuable.

  Today, every planet in the solar system has been visited by space probes: Mars and Venus many times; Jupiter by a pair of orbiters; Mercury and Saturn by an orbiter each; Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto on brief visits.

  On July 20, 1969, 116 satellites were orbiting the Earth, not counting the moon or Apollo 11.

  GPS, on the other hand, is free, courtesy of the US Air Force, which consequently has played the unlikely role of driving taxi companies around the world out of business and acting as a matchmaker for the millions who use apps like Tinder, Grindr, and Bumble.

  Cubesats and other small satellites have begun to change the economics of low Earth orbit in important ways.