Apollo 11

Today, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of man’s landing on the Moon, I read Ayn Rand on “Apollo 11” (The Objectivist, September 1969). Here are some excerpts:

The meaning of the sight [the launch] lay in the fact that when those dark-red wings of fire flared open, one knew that one was not looking at a normal occurrence, but at a cataclysm which, if unleashed by nature, would have wiped man out of existence—and one knew also that this cataclysm was planned, unleashed and controlled by man, that this unimaginable power was ruled by his power and, obediently serving his purpose, was making way for a slender, rising craft. One knew that this spectacle was not the product of inanimate nature, like some aurora borealis, nor of chance, nor of luck, that it was unmistakably human—with “human,” for once, meaning grandeur—that a purpose and a long, sustained, disciplined effort had gone to achieve this series of moments, and that man was succeeding, succeeding, succeeding! For once, if only for seven minutes, the worst among those who saw it had to feel—not “How small is man by the side of the Grand Canyon!”—but “How great is man and how safe is nature when he conquers it!”

That we had seen a demonstration of man at his best, no one could doubt—this was the cause of the event’s attraction and of the stunned, numbed state in which it left us. And no one could doubt that we had seen an achievement of man in his capacity as a rational being—an achievement of reason, of logic, of mathematics, of total dedication to the absolutism of reality. [pp.5-6]

Those four days conveyed the sense that we were watching a magnificent work of art—a play dramatizing a single theme: the efficacy of man’s mind. One after another, the crucial, dangerous maneuvers of Apollo 11’s flight were carried out according to plan, with what appeared to be an effortless perfection. [p. 6]

As to my personal reaction to the entire mission of Apollo 11, I can express it best by paraphrasing a passage from Atlas Shrugged that kept coming back to my mind: “Why did I feel that joyous sense of confidence while watching the mission? In all of its giant course, two aspects pertaining to the inhuman were radiantly absent: the causeless and the purposeless. Every part of the mission was an embodied answer to ‘Why?’ and ‘What for?’—like the steps of a life-course chosen by the sort of mind I worship. The mission was a moral code enacted in space.” [pp. 7-8]