Last week, Rachel Slade wrote an essay, on the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, lamenting all the time and money poured into the moonshot.

“And so the US spent its boundless energy conquering the moon even as it relentlessly bombed Vietnam,” she wrote, “even as it set up cooperative dictatorships around the globe, even as it trespassed into peaceful Cambodia which would, as a result of our secret war, devour itself. That year, a paranoid America thrust itself into every sphere and blasted perceived foes to bits.”

The piece provoked lots of reaction. Some readers praised a clear-eyed indictment of American overreach. Others were sharply critical — pointing to the Cold War stakes, or the value of wonder, or the scientific advances that came out of the Apollo mission.


An online commenter who goes by the name “Klaatu1951” combined those last couple of critiques:

People rightly point out that the space program jumped our technology two or three decades [forward —] in a decade and a bit. . .

But so often overlooked is the spark it gave a young generation, a critical mass of science and technology talent . . .

We are trying to inspire young people, and most notably, young women and minorities, to go into STEM fields. What we lack these days is the kind of spark the space program gave us.