Life itself is a chancy thing, but like love, the pursuit of innovation, is among the most fickle and heartbreaking means to spend one's time on earth. And just as nobody ought to fall in love for any reason but to love, it is wise never to consider innovating unless the process of innovation is itself intrinsically appealing and satisfying to the heart. Whatever comes out of the process ought to be treated as a bonus.
America had been inspired by President Kennedy's wish, announced in 1961, of "achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth." After his assassination in 1963, the idea became a homage to him, a way of showing the world what the United States would have achieved had he lived. Within days of the Apollo 11 astronauts' safe return to Earth, someone put a message on Kennedy's grave: "Mr President, the Eagle has landed." Job done, in other words.
It was also an extraordinarily expensive project, it should be noted. The entire Apollo programme cost $24bn in 1960s money - around $1 trillion in today's - and for several years was swallowing up almost 5 per cent of the US federal budget. In addition, there was also a considerable emotional cost to the missions, a point stressed by Christopher Riley, co-producer of the 2007 documentary In the Shadow of the Moon. "A great many Americans suffered premature heart attacks and strokes from their efforts in making the Apollo project succeed. More than 400,000 workers were employed by private contractors to build capsules, rocket engines, space suits, and computers for Apollo and the vast majority worked flat out, over weekends and holidays, much of the time for free, for several years to make sure the programme succeeded."For example, at the Grumman factory in New Jersey, where the lunar module was built, staff would clock off at 5pm, leave by the front door, walk round to the back and work for free until midnight. Similarly, employees at the International Latex Corporation - which made the suits worn by the Apollo astronauts - worked with equally obsessive intensity. In a recent documentary, the company's senior seamstress, Eleanor Foraker, recalled working 80-hour weeks without days off or holidays for three continuous years, suffering two nervous breakdowns in the process. "I would leave the plant at five o'clock in the morning and be back by seven. But it was worth it, it really was."
In the end, the real problem for Nasa is that it did the hardest thing first. Kennedy's pledge to fly to the moon within a decade was made when its astronauts had clocked up exactly 20 minutes' experience of manned spaceflight. "We wondered what the heck he was talking about," recalls Nasa flight director Gene Kranz. To get there before the Russians the agency was obliged to design craft that were highly specific to the task. Hence the Saturn V, the Apollo capsule and the lunar module. Unfortunately, these vehicles were fairly useless at anything else in space - such as building a space station - and Nasa, having nearly broken the bank with Apollo, had to start again on budgets that dwindled dramatically as the decades passed.
The conclusion is therefore inescapable. Kennedy's great vision and Armstrong's lunar footsteps killed off deep-space manned missions for 40 years - and probably for many decades to come. As DeGroot says: "Hubris took America to the moon, a barren, soulless place where humans do not belong and cannot flourish. If the voyage has had any positive benefit at all, it has reminded us that everything good resides here on Earth."
Blu-ray will doubtlessly continue to grow in popularity as more of us buy large HD-capable flat screen televisions. In the same vein, it’ll continue to make inroads in computing and video gaming markets. But it’s a case of too little, too late, as long-term trends point to a slower uptake than DVDs ever had. When we can simply download a good-enough copy of a movie from iTunes and save it to a USB drive or mobile device for viewing pretty much anywhere, why would we even bother with a power-hungry, noisy, expensive and frankly inconvenient disc in the first place?By the time most consumers have asked themselves this question, the answer will already be in: Optical discs are a fading technology, and investing in them now could be a shorter-term move than you might have initially anticipated.