The Magazine

The Fog of War

Forgetting what we once knew.

May 18, 2009, Vol. 14, No. 33 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
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"You know the old saying about 'If we can put a man on the moon, why can't we cure cancer, have world peace, whatever?' " muses Rand Simberg, a former Rockwell manager and now an aerospace consultant. "Space enthusiasts say, 'If we can put a man on the moon, why can't we put a man on the moon?' "

The answer, Simberg explains, is that we can't "because most of the people who did it are in their dotage or dead, and a lot of it was more art than science." Today NASA has been reduced--seriously--to buying old parts for the space shuttle from eBay because the contractors who built them don't exist any more. It is an open question whether the American government, five years after President Bush called for a return to the moon, could even build a Saturn V--the rocket used in all the moon shots of the late '60s and early '70s.

As the GAO report on Fogbank admonishes, "assumptions such as 'we did it before so we can do it again' are often wrong." For a society that believes itself to be in a postindustrial information age, that's a sobering thought.

Jonathan V. Last is a staff writer at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.