Later this month, Americans will celebrate the 50th anniversary of humanity’s first landing on the moon.
Remembering that July 20, 1969 event, when NASA astronaut Neil Armstrong planted his foot on the lunar surface, should also be an occasion to think about America’s future in space. It’s a question that promises to deeply involve Louisiana, which had a significant role in getting humans to the moon in the first place.
The Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans East helped make the Saturn rockets that made the Apollo moon missions possible. Michoud also made the huge fuel tanks for NASA’s space shuttles. Parts of the International Space Station have been made at Michoud, too.
Given Michoud’s contribution to space exploration, we weren’t surprised to see it mentioned in “American Moonshot,” historian Douglas Brinkley’s new book about the moon landing. Brinkley, who taught at Tulane before joining the faculty at Rice, was no doubt already familiar with the plant’s history when he began research on his latest work.
Explaining Michoud’s work on the Saturn project to readers beyond Louisiana, Brinkley describes it as “a 1.8 million-square-foot manufacturing facility that had built Patton and Sherman tanks for the Korean War. Located beside Bayou Sauvage and offering ship access to the Gulf of Mexico, Michoud adopted the slogan, ‘From muskrats to moon ships.’”
A half a century later, Michoud might get the chance to send America back to the moon and beyond. Michoud workers are now helping to building the Space Launch System, which will be part of a planned unmanned mission carrying a capsule 40,000 miles beyond the moon and back. Data gathered from that mission could help shape a manned return trip to the moon.
NASA’s plans now call for returning astronauts to the moon by 2024, but that will depend on funding, which has fluctuated according to the whims of several presidents and Congress.
Despite the divisive political climate of Washington, Americans should be able to agree on the importance of consistently and vigorously funding space exploration. History tells us that the most successful nations are those that have led the way in exploring new frontiers. When countries cede that ground to others, their power diminishes.
Five decades after the moon landing, space remains humanity’s biggest and most challenging frontier.
The times call America to reclaim space exploration as a priority. Now, as in 1969, Louisiana must be a part of that mission.