The US took a “giant leap” landing on the moon in 1969, but NASA's greatest moment of triumph was also "a real knee in the groin" for the space agency, writes Tom Wolfe in the New York Times. At the time, we thought we’d build “a bridge to the stars,” with stops at Mars, Venus, and Pluto. Instead, after Apollo 11, NASA began laying off employees. The key trouble: “NASA had neglected to recruit a corps of philosophers.”
We were fueled in the 1960s by a need to close the “space gap” with the Soviets, which John Glenn finally did, making him what Wolfe calls “the last true national hero America ever had.” But when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, we’d won the space race and had no need to push further—leaving NASA to flounder, without a "philosopher" to give voice to its mission, in "full-blown purgatory" for the past 40 years.
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