"If they can put a man on the moon, why can't they make a breakfast cereal that stays crunchy even after you pour on the milk?"

by Derrick Bostrom in


I was all stoked last fall to write this epic post about personal responsibility, goals and leadership, all tied into Mission STS-125, the final repair of the Hubble telescope. I'm sure I would have worked in the presidential election too. But then the Shuttle launch got pushed back, the election passed, and the wreckage of the economy became so much more entertaining. So I shelved my notes. The launch finally happened last week. We were there all right, and I even got some halfway decent pictures. (In that sense, the delay was a good thing -- I got in a lot of shooting practice between September and May). But whatever enthusiasm I had for tying in the event with larger themes has dissipated. For one thing, blogging has been taken largely off the table. I decided it was more important to try to exercise more, sleep better and resist the urge to schedule every single minute of my week, for crying out loud. Those are honorable goals. Even doing nothing is better than stressing over self-imposed, meaningless deadlines.

For those of you who might be curious, the thrust of my argument was something along these lines:

Over the years, we've forgotten the true lesson of the Apollo missions. Nowadays, people would rather believe that the moon walks were faked. Or we miss the point altogether, second-guessing NASA's share of our resources. But the true beauty of our space program lies not so much with its specifics, but with the idea that when given a clearly stated goal, and the passion to reach that goal, humans can whip up the will and the discipline to do just about anything.

It starts with leadership: "We choose to send a man to the moon by the end of the decade." Simple, clear, concise. No room for misinterpretation. No points for wriggling out on a technicality. "Get it done -- find a way." If the public of the 1960s were awed by the technical mastery and gratified by our winning "the space race," they were also inspired by the sight of a team making it happen, right before their very eyes.

Yep, that sounds like me, all right. But these days, I'm not feeling all that particularly sold on the "great man" theory. Reality is too complicated and time is too precious to waste it waiting around for the few strong willed people who come along to show us the way. We just end up following them anyway. Then they flame out, and we're back to chasing our own tails again. Better reserve our energy for muddling through, and leave the "solutions" aside.

On the other hand, the launch was freaking awesome. And they did manage to fix the Hubble. And my pictures didn't turn out half bad either:

Shuttle Atlantis Launch - May 11, 2009

Shuttle Atlantis Launch - May 11, 2009

Shuttle Atlantis Launch - May 11, 2009

Shuttle Atlantis Launch - May 11, 2009

Shuttle Atlantis Launch - May 11, 2009

Shuttle Atlantis Launch - May 11, 2009