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Off the Rails: Mad Men and American Liberalism in 1968

Kubrick would go a step further: in his cinematic vision, not only is God dead, man himself was created by interplanetary aliens who four million years ago manipulated our hominid predecessors by inspiring them to use tools. Tools that – with one of the greatest flash cuts in cinema history – would eventually transform us from cavemen to men preparing to conquer space and literally meet our makers in the film's mystical last segment. But the men depicted in Kubrick’s 2001 were, with the exception of Keir Dullea’s character, who undergoes his spiritual rebirth (itself a recurring fascist leitmotif), Nietzsche’s fabled last men:

In Thus Spake Zarathustra, the eponymous hero predicts the coming of the last man: “Alas, the time of the most despicable man is coming, he that is no longer able to despise himself. Behold, I show you the last man. What is love? What is creation? What is longing? What is a star? Thus asks the last man and blinks. The earth has become small, and on it hops the last man who makes everything small.” The last man is timid, enervated, self-enclosed, and self-satisfied, an industrious economic animal who always finds it in his best interest to go with the flow, to conform to the dictates of common opinion. Yet he does not regard this conformity and passivity as slavish because there is no one person to whom he submits. In following the majority, he does but follow his own will. Zarathustra expatiates, “No shepherd and one herd. Everybody wants the same, everybody is the same: whoever feels different goes voluntarily into a madhouse…. One has one’s little pleasure for the day and one’s little pleasure for the night: but one has a regard for health.” When Zarathustra speaks these words to ordinary citizens, instead of being insulted by his images of their shallow and petty souls, they clamor, “Turn us into these last men.”

In stark real life contrast to the dissipated interstellar bureaucrats depicted in 2001, NASA’s Apollo 8 mission in December of 1968 was the American manned space program’s boldest achievement to date. The previous mission was the first time the Apollo capsule had gone into space with a crew onboard. The January 1967 launch pad fire that killed the crew of Apollo 1 was still fresh and raw in the minds of everyone at NASA. The lunar module wasn’t yet ready for manned testing in space. But there was a Saturn V ready to go – which itself had yet to be flown on a manned mission – and another Apollo capsule. Why not send three men to orbit the moon, George Low, then manager of the Apollo Spacecraft Program Office, proposed? It was the very definition of Tom Wolfe’s Right Stuff – if the accident that would later cripple Apollo 13 had happened on this mission, the three astronauts onboard, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders, would very likely have been doomed. Instead, they achieved what some in NASA thought was the Apollo program’s greatest moment; the moment where man left Earth entirely for the first time.

In Charles Murray and Catherine Bly Cox’s beautifully written 1989 book Apollo, the authors wrote:

Reflecting on it years later, Mike Collins [later the command module pilot on Apollo 11] wondered whether the most historic moment in the Apollo Program might have occurred not on July 20, 1969, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first men on the moon, but at 9:41 A.M. C.S.T., December 21, 1968.

Collins [serving as “CapCom,” the communications liaison between Mission Control and Apollo 8], a man with a sense of both poetry and history, felt even as he spoke that the words weren’t enough. Here is one of the most historic things we’ve ever done, may ever do, he thought to himself, and there ought to be some recognition of it. And what do I say? “Apollo 8, you are go for T.L.I.” But in the MOCR, that’s the way you said, “Mankind, the time has come to leave your first home.” The S-IVB relit as programmed, firing for five minutes. It increased the spacecraft’s speed from 25,000 to 33,500 feet per second, sufficient to take the spacecraft out of earth’s gravitational field.

* * * * * *

For many of the people in the Apollo Program, Apollo 8 was the most magical flight of all, surpassing even the first landing of Apollo 11. For some, like Mike Collins, Eight’s momentous historic significance was foremost. For John Aaron, an EECOM, it was simpler than that: “When you’re twenty-five and caught up in the thing, and the MOCR’s the only environment you know, you don’t tend to view things that way.” For Aaron, it was the sheer excitement of going to the moon for the first time. Or as FIDO Jay Greene put it, Apollo 8 was the time that they stopped “just running around in circles. Apollo 8 went some place.”

And when they got there, orbiting the moon, the Apollo astronauts did something that would be utterly inconceivable in today’s leftwing multi-culti obsessed overculture. In addition to the sheer guts of the mission, if anything spotlights the difference between the NASA of 1968 and the exhausted organization that bears its name today, it’s this:

On Christmas Eve, in lunar orbit, Frank Borman read a prayer for the congregation at St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church back in Houston. Later, on their television broadcast, the three crew members took turns reading from Genesis. [Audio here -- Ed] It came as a surprise to the controllers in the MOCR, as it did to the millions watching on television, and it was just as overpowering to the controllers as to the rest of the world, this magnificent poetry about the creation of the earth, read by the first men to see the earth whole. Frank Borman, the commander of Apollo 8, had the last verses: “And God said, Let the waters under the Heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear, and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth, and the gathering together of the waters He called Seas, and God saw that it was good.” Borman paused, then concluded: “And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with goodnight, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you—all of you on the good Earth.”

Rod Loe, sitting at his EECOM console, working this last special flight as a controller just as Arnie Aldrich had promised he could, found his eyes welling over with tears. He bent over his flight log, embarrassed, hoping that no one would notice.

But one person certainly noticed the reading. As Fox News drolly put it, when they looked back at the mission forty years later, “Notable atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair sued NASA over the Genesis reading, but the court ruled it had no jurisdiction over events in space.”

Heh, indeed.™

After the mission, an unknown admirer sent a telegram to Borman that read simply: "Thank you Apollo 8. You saved 1968."

Not much else good happened that year.