This WaPo op ed by former NASA Administrator Michael Griffin observes that while we went to the moon 40 years ago (today), we couldn't do it again... largely, because we dismantled the implements of the lunar landing program. Griffin suggests its because of the loss of "the vision thing."
I think it's much more serious than that. I think we're now largely a nation of actual-underachieving-children, maniacally good at little else besides playing with our asininely complex toys and padding our resumes (17-year olds now generally must have published novels, perfect SATs and grade point averages, multiple varsity letters and peer reviewed scientific journal articles to be even considered for admission to the nation's premier universities... and yet, when they graduate, are no more- and perhaps quite less-- impressive in accomplishing anything-- other than self-promotion of course-- than their predecessors).
It explains why this "quite-less-than-the-greatest-generation" in everything except consumption and self-aggrandizement can't rebuild New Orleans or a 13 acre hole in downtown Manhattan or rout a few irregulars who caused us trouble or even acknowledge the existence of (let alone solve) climate change, or problems (domestic and worldwide) in distribution of health care... and food.
Sorry, but am I saying that the generation of Armstrong, Aldrin, et al., and the men and women who put them on the moon are better than us? Yes, that's what I'm saying. Not because of anything intrinsic in the (overwhelmingly Bush-Cheney supporting) members of the generation, but because things weren't so freaking EASY for them as they are for us.
Yes, the toxic sense of entitlement was there, which has, with lethal consequences, been passed down to us, which, alas, let us believe that not only had a life of rampant, pointless consumption become possible, it was a moral imperative (leading to George Dubya Bush asking the nation to go shopping at a moment when genuine national sacrifice was called for).
And so, while we now have more computing power in our I-phones and Mac-books than the entire planet had in 1969 when it was putting men on the moon (largely using slide-rules, pencil-and-paper-calculations and sheer guts)... hold on a minute, someone is texting me!
So let me say again: our cool toys aren't making us any better, or making this a better world. Maybe they make our lives "easier," but they do so at the cost of our humanity, which, quite frankly, requires stress and pressure (not to mention some goal to strive for, even if merely survival) just to go on. And so, as we ponder why a far less technically sophisticated nation could land men on the moon forty years ago but no longer can, we might... hold it, there's an instant message there... we might wonder just what we have lost.