Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Man on the Moon and Doctor Bills

July 20, 2009 marked the 40th anniversary of the momentous occasion of humans first walking on the moon. Upon setting foot on lunar soil, Neil Armstrong uttered, with a slight glitch (either technical or grammatical), the immortal words: "That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind."

Of course, the Sixties in America were an especially tumultuous period of social protest by many constituencies, so it is not too surprising that the moon landing itself was also the subject of criticism. Indeed, no less a figure than the highly accomplished space scientist Dr. James Van Allen [1914-2006] of the University of Iowa objected throughout his career to the vast resources that were expended on manned space flight as opposed to other more economical and efficient means of exploration and research.

On the cultural front, poet, musician, and activist Gil Scott-Heron in 1970 composed and recorded the song, "Whitey on the Moon," which contrasts the poverty and medical expenses of the song's protagonist to the fact that astronauts are now going to the moon. The lyrics raise poignant questions about how society allocates limited resources to fundamental needs such as health care. And in what is perhaps a reference to the air mail stamp that was issued in 1969 to commemorate the moon landing (pictured above), the song concludes: "I think I'll send these doctor bills, airmail special (to Whitey on the moon)." Various versions of this song, as well as Scott-Heron's "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" are available on YouTube.

The last man on the moon (and all twelve NASA astronauts that walked on the moon were male--and white) was Eugene Cernan, who commanded the Apollo 17 mission in December 1972. His parting words as the lunar module left the celestial body closest to Earth were: "We leave as we came and, god willing, as we shall return, with peace, and hope for all mankind."

See also: Man on the Moon -- Part II.

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