It won't surprise anyone (except me) that I'm in the 99th percentile of science and engineering knowledge, compared to the average American--especially when it comes to space exploration. This is stuff I eagerly read about at every opportunity when I was in public school, and while I've not studied every latest development I have tried to keep abreast of what's happening.
I was reminded of all this when Mrs. Fungus asked me, "Do we still have astronauts?"
It's not her fault. What percentage of typical mainstream media coverage is dedicated to describing the space program? Unless something major happens, it's ignored by all but the niche publications. The X-1 Ares test got perhaps fifteen seconds the night it flew; SpaceX's milestones garner even less press interest. If there is any coverage at all, it is becaome something spectacularly disastrous takes place, and then the press is interested only until the next successful flight--at which point it becomes non-news again.
I console myself by recalling that--in all probability--the very same thing happened during the colonial period. Hey, it's big news, Colombus is back and found a previously undiscovered continent! ...and the next time someone goes there and comes back, it's not news, right? We know there's a place across the sea, but it's far away and only a select few can ever go there, and I have kids to feed and bills to pay. Yeah, it's neat that you found this new breed of bird over there, but that doesn't help me with my gout. If they can send a ship to the New World, why can't they find a way to get this load of wheat to the mill without me having to bust my balls?
It led to other questions. "When was the last time someone went to the Moon?" And my perennial favorite for long winded and complicated answers, "Why did we just stop going?" (The short answer is "stupidity" but understanding that answer fully requires a twenty-minute lecture. No, I didn't waste our time like that; I simply listed things like "Nixon" and "Vietnam" and "Democrats" and "we need to solve problems here on Earth rather than sending that money into space", as if we'd just loaded pallets of $100 bills into rockets and fired them into the sun....)
There were other pauses for explanation. The docking maneuvers, the life support problems, Fred Haise's illness, the simulator runs (and why they were important), the need for perfection in all things--I was reminded again just how little the average person knows about the American space program and its history.
It is not--let me say again--my wife's fault that she doesn't know any of this.
...the problem is, I don't know who to blame for it. I know that her ignorance of the subject is typical for most people--pandemic--and I can only conclude that it's because no one talks about it. It's not taught in schools; if there is any mention of the space program at all it's in the context of "Mae Jemison was the first black woman in space!" rather than, "We went to the moon seven times. No one has been back since." Multiculti boosterism rather than focusing on the real achievements, the ones which were great triumphs for the human race.
Hint: Mae Jemison's race and sex should be a footnote. As in, "Mars Two landed near Mons Olympus on May 14, 1987. Rich Thorium commanded the mission. Captain Blake Rocket was the chief pilot. Derrick Slade and Mae Jemison--the first black woman in space--were mission specialists also aboard the lander." Something like that. Not, "Woohoo! NASA beat the rest of the world in putting a black woman into space!" That is not an achievement; that is just pathetic boosterism which is meant to stand in for real achievement. (Yes, it's history, but it's not a great achievement for mankind.)
The farther we go on that road the more ridiculous these "accomplishments" get. "All-female crew aboard the space station!" That's an adolescent fantasy, not a milestone in space exploration. Down this road lie other multiculti PC abominations: "First left-handed jewish male lesbian of color in space!" As if any of those conditions was somehow a detriment to a person's ability to function in space. "Sorry, I can't wear that space suit because you designed it for white christian heteronormative males. You need to accommodate my diversities."
They spend decades telling us "women are just as good as men!" and then celebrate when a woman goes into space. If women are just as good as men, why is it worthy of celebration when one does what a man can do? You can apply that to any multiculti variant you choose, but the "first X in space!" only becomes interesting when you start seeing real handicaps. First blind person in space; first paraplegic in space; first nearsighted, balding, fat SF writer in space (I will volunteer for that last one, by the way). When they start showing us examples of people going up who are anything other than the 100% perfect specimins selected by NASA, maybe then I will be impressed.
To her credit, my wife was dismayed that we haven't been to the Moon since before she was born. I'm dismayed by that, too--and disgusted and a lot of other things--but I'm also dismayed by the fact I had to tell her this.
"All this really happened?" Yep, all of it--some parts were jazzed up by Hollywood but generally speaking the story is 100% true to history.
We did enjoy the movie. I like it every time I see it, because it shows that we once had a space program which was capable of doing things, useful and difficult things, rather than spend money on useless boondoggles. ("We need the shuttle to service the space station. We need the space station so the shuttle has a destination." *sigh*)