The aftermath of the lunar landing
July 26, 2019
The 50th anniversary of the first successful Apollo-Saturn Moon Mission was met last week with great fanfare and enthusiasm by the national and international media, the American people and the entire global community. There were inspiring speeches, recognition of our brave astronauts, celebration of a great national achievement and a remembrance, if not a renewal of the spirit of unity that at the time prevailed among the American people.
While NASA, the astronauts and the leaders of the project were acclaimed as national heroes, less attention was paid the hundreds of thousands of dedicated American workers who had toiled countless hours in every state of the union and contributed to this amazing project and advancement in science and technology.
More recognition should also have been given to the less famous scientists, engineers and technicians and to all the support people from every profession and trade who dedicated their working lives including, the families who supported them, through the decade of preparation to accomplish this magnificent achievement.
Not only was the Apollo program and its predecessors, the Gemini and Mercury programs great scientific achievements, they also were examples of innovation in and development of management techniques that brought together thousands of contractors, subcontractors, and unions who respectively supplied millions of parts for the rockets and spacecraft as well as a productive and intelligent work force to make these programs successful.
At the time of the lunar landing the United States had assembled a national resource of technical companies and an incredible labor force that was capable of not only continuing the U.S. effort to advance space exploration, but to continue the spin-off and introduction of so many new industrial, medical and consumer products from teflon to personal computers; and which greatly enhanced our economy and our standard of living.
Unfortunately, our national leaders at the time were short-sighted and the people we recently honored and should have honored this past week were soon cast aside.
Weeks after the first successful Apollo mission, thousands of Kennedy Space Center workers were laid off. Men, women and their families, who were completely dedicated to the space program, were confronted with little or no opportunity for finding equivalent work in many of the communities of Brevard county.
After years of living and working long hours, and in many cases, working “around the clock,” they ended up losing not only their jobs, but in many cases their homes. The phrase “success breeds lay-off” became an ugly reality for space workers, not only at the Kennedy Space Center, but in space communities throughout the country.
The U.S. government frittered away a great national resource of companies and workers, that was only partially reassembled during the Space Shuttle program; and now 50 years later, the nation that accomplished so many great achievements in space exploration is dependent on Russia for ferrying U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station, which was primarily designed, financed and constructed by the United States.
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Mel Pearlman holds B.S. & M.S. degrees in physics as well as a J.D. degree and initially came to Florida in 1966 to work on the Gemini and Apollo space programs. He has practiced law in Central Florida since 1972. He has served as president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando; was a charter board member, first Vice President and pro-bono legal counsel of the Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center of Central Florida, as well as holding many other community leadership positions.