Faith at NASA, the Yellow Jersey at 100, and a Defense of Houses
Fifty years ago, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to walk on the moon. In Image, Adam Roberts reviews a handful of works on religious faith did and didn’t influence NASA’s space program: “As Apollo 8 orbited the moon in December of 1968, astronaut Bill Anders informed ‘all the people back on earth’ that ‘the crew of Apollo 8 has a message we would like to send you.’ They then read the creation account of Genesis 1 aloud. The reading, Oliver shows, had an enormous impact. The Christian Century ran an editorial declaring themselves ‘struck dumb by this event,’ and Apollo flight director Gene Kranz wept openly in the control room: ‘for those moments,’ he later recalled, ‘I felt the presence of creation and the Creator.’”
Matthew Walther argues that the Apollo space program wasn’t as much of a scientific triumph as it was an aesthetic one: “What Goethe began at Weimar in 1789 ended on August 15, 1969. Apollo 11 was the culmination of the Romantic cult of the sublime prefigured in the speculations of Burke and Kant, an artistic juxtaposition of man against a brutal environment upon which he could project his fears, his sympathies, his feelings of transcendence.”
Robert Smith writes about the history of the rocket and how the Apollo program briefly brought an entire country together: “Most days for fifteen years, I would make my way to my office at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. Like the museum’s nine million annual visitors, I would enter the building through the Milestones of Flight gallery. There, ten metres or so from each other, sat the original Apollo 11 command module, Columbia, which carried those three astronauts to and from the moon, and a model of Goddard’s 1926 two-metre liquid-fuel rocket. Hanging above all was the original Wright Flyer, from 1903. It was, and is, tempting to trace an undeviating, inevitable path between these aerospace artifacts — each naturally leading to the other. But however compelling the lure of the linear is, especially in a museum, there was nothing preordained about the technological spectacle that was a Saturn V rocket.”
In other news: Paris’s Notre-Dame could have easily burnt to the ground. A small committee of reporters explains why it didn’t in The New York Times.
The “Scopes Monkey Trial” is one of the most misunderstood events of the twentieth century. It wasn’t a “fundamentalist inquisition.” It was a publicity stunt: “Contrary to the impression created by Inherit the Wind and other popular accounts (including the sensational reportage of H. L. Mencken of The Baltimore Sun, one of the leading journalists of his day), the trial was not a fundamentalist inquisition, but an ill-conceived publicity stunt by Dayton businessmen who were trying to attract tourists to the small town—to put Dayton on the map. To generate a test case challenging the statute, the American Civil Liberties Union had offered to defend any teacher charged with violating the Butler Act, gratis. Dayton businessmen recruited Scopes to agree to serve as the defendant, even though he was unsure he had actually taught evolution. Nonetheless, Scopes volunteered to be charged. The trial—for a misdemeanor offense—was staged. Celebrity lawyers were solicited to participate for the sole purpose of increasing public interest in the case. The Baltimore Sun paid part of the defense’s expenses because it knew that the spectacle would sell newspapers, and it did. A lot of them.”
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the yellow jersey in the Tour de France. Here’s why it was introduced and a few photos of it over the years: “The iconic Tour de France yellow jersey began on a whim. At the inception of the 5,560-kilometer cycling competition in 1903, no clear indicator existed that showed who was winning the competition: the leader received only a green armband that journalists covering the race complained they could not properly see. In 1919, the Tour de France returned following a four-year hiatus because of World War I. Two-thirds of the way through the race, the director of the Tour de France—Henri Desgrange—decided he needed a clearer identifier of the leader. He came up with the idea that whoever had the fastest overall time at a given stage of the race would don a yellow jersey—yellow in honor of the sports newspaper that sponsored the race, L’Auto-Vélo, which was printed on yellow paper.”
Mark Athitakis tells the story of how Frank Lloyd Wright built his Taliesin West compound: “Phoenix was barely a city in 1940—its population was approximately 65,000—and the city center was 26 miles from the site. That distance helped Wright economize: He’d acquired the land cheaply (800 acres at $3.50 an acre), in part, because there was no evidence of groundwater on the site. (A well digger eventually had to drill 486 feet.) But Wright treasured remoteness. ‘Clients have asked me: “How far should we go out, Mr. Wright?”’ he once wrote. ‘I say: “Just ten times as far as you think you ought to go.”’ The trade-off for that distance was that the fellowship, which formally launched in 1932 as a school (though also often criticized as a form of indentured servitude), needed to be a self-sufficient community. Members cooked and built together, and were expected to convene for Sunday evening formal dinners, write and perform music and skits, and attend movie screenings. All were expected to engage in some kind of performing art, even if you had little musical interest or talent; choir practice, Casey recalls, was at 7:15 a.m. sharp . . . Culture didn’t necessarily equate to order, however. Though the site looks tame and polished now, drawing approximately 100,000 visitors annually, it was constructed slowly.”
In defense of houses: “Single-family homes are the backbone of American aspiration—so why do so many people oppose them?”
Essay of the Day:
In Standpoint, Roy Peachey writes about the unsung role of Chinese laborers in the First World War:
“When the Great War broke out in July 1914, the Chinese government sensed an opportunity to win its territory back. However, it also faced the possibility of being over-run by warring imperial powers. With Chinese territory controlled by Germany and Austria-Hungary on the one hand, and Britain, France and Russia on the other, there was a distinct possibility that the European imperial conflict would quickly spill over onto Chinese soil. Hoping to keep the conflict at arm’s length, the Chinese government immediately announced its neutrality.
“Neutrality proved to be a vain hope. Japan, seeing an opportunity to strengthen its extra-territorial interests, laid siege to Qingdao with British help and by November 1914 had driven the Germans out and taken their place, quickly extending their reach into the whole province. The British were delighted by this early Allied victory: the Chinese less so. They may have been quite happy to see the Germans despatched from Qingdao, but their replacement by Japanese troops who were clearly keen to further extend Japan’s sphere of influence was hardly the outcome they had been seeking.
“It would be no exaggeration to say that the fall of Qingdao drove Chinese military policy for the next four years. Determined to regain full territorial integrity while being acutely aware of domestic instability, the Chinese government did all it could to persuade the Allies to return Qingdao and the rest of Shandong to Chinese control, which meant that it had no alternative but to support the Allied war effort.
“The opening gambit in the Chinese strategy to get its voice heard in London and Paris was to offer Chinese troops to fight on the western front. When this offer was rejected by Britain, one of the leading Chinese politicians of the time, Liang Shiyi, came up with a new idea: the Labourers as Soldiers strategy. By offering labourers to the Allies, the Chinese hoped to win a seat at the post-war peace conference and so ensure that the territory that had been wrested from them would be swiftly returned.”
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