Thursday, 16 July 2009

When Apollo made our giant leap -- forty years ago [update 3]

When man first shook off earth’s pull and planted a flag on the moon – the object of centuries’ impossible dreams – it was marked, famously, by Neil Armstrong’s “small step for (a) man, a giant leap for mankind.”  It was, said Ayn Rand, an unabashed symbol of man’s greatness.

CLICK TO ENLARGEWhat [Apollo revealed], in naked essentials—but in reality, not in a work of art—was the concretized abstraction of man's greatness. . .  The fundamental significance of Apollo 11’s triumph is not political; it is philosophical. . .  Frustration is the leitmotif in the lives of most men, particularly today—the frustration of inarticulate desires, with no knowledge of the means to achieve them. In the sight and hearing of a crumbling world, Apollo 11 enacted the story of an audacious purpose, its execution, its triumph, and the means that achieved it—the story and the demonstration of man’s highest potential.

Hard to believe it was all forty years ago this week!  The New York Times marks the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon with “an in-depth look at the historic journey.” 

CLICK TO ENLARGE Check out photos taken by the astronauts in space and pictures of the  spectators at the launch. Read about the awe-inspiring days  of the space race and examine its cultural impact. Tell your story of the moon landing and share family photos that were  taken during those eight days in July 1969:

And Popular Mechanics magazine has outdone themselves with “dovetailed interviews” of all involved in the Apollo 11 moon landing. [Hat tip to the Tizona Group Blog, which also has extensive coverage of the event by The Onion – a must-see!]

We can celebrate the achievement, but still deplore the taxpayer funding --  and the government involvement.  (Where is D.D. Harriman when you need him, i.e., The Man Who Sold the Moon?) Both Daily Pundit and Samizdata however hold out hope that the government-run monopoly on space travel/exploration is doomed. “Maybe not as fast as we would like, but eventually. . .  And that is a good thing.”

Sure is.  “It has often been said, even by vocal proponents of free enterprise who claim to hate government subsidies, that while private citizens are good at settling or homesteading, the government is good at exploring. They argue that we have always needed the government to do the exploring, to pave the way for the private settlers. [Ron Pisaturo’s reply is]: Recognize private property for exploring, and you will see that private citizens make better explorers than do government employees.”

UPDATE 1: Brad Taylor’s Blog has pictures of the SpaceX Falcon 1 launching a commercial satellite without coercive taxation.  Way to go!

UPDATE 2: He’s a busy lad. Brad also has a piece on the future of space, and it’s SpaceSteading -- “transforming space from a government-owned bureaucratic program into a dynamic and inclusive frontier open to people.”  Proponents are determined, they say, “to convert the image held by many young people that the future will be worse than the present, and we reject the idea that the world’s greatest moments are in its past.”

UPDATE 3: And I’ve just received this note which I’ve yet to check out, so take it for what it’s worth. Apparently, so I’m told, the only official NASA documentary film capturing the Apollo 11 mission in 1969  Moonwalk One has been restored, “ delivering the most incredible HD quality and 5.1 sound mix version allowing Theo Kamecke the original director to create his long awaited Moonwalk One – The Director’s Cut.”  My emailer tells me that “All broadcasters across the globe have been given permission to download and broadcast the files from this web browser file transfer site:,” and also that Moonwalk One – The Director’s Cut is “exclusively” on sale from moonwalkone.comIf you try the links, let me know how you get on.


  1. You've noted that we now have private space launches, right? See Brad, here.

  2. Appollo & the entire space exploration industry gave birth to modern digital control, in which theory, hardware and software implementations made at that point in time produced a quantum leap in man's technology development.

    I am rocket engineer, but I definitely know the control system algorithm that was developed into the Appollo's guidance & navigation digital control system. This algorithm/technique is known as Kalman Filter (KF). The first engineering application of KF was the Appollo program, and the technique has advanced since then (ie, more accurate), which has become an important topic in control theory and control systems engineering. The commercial airlines & aviation industry of today, do have auto-pilot navigation capability, and it is the KF that does this.

    The uses of KF has spun out to other disciplines as well, from medicine, image processing, speech processing, electronic chip & IC (integrated-circuits), statistics, economics/finance and my interest in KF lies in its excellent approximation capability for tracking errors in financial time-series in real-time, such as its application for forex arbitration identification.

    The tracking-error is the difference between the the actual measured observations and those of the approximations (ie, forecast values, or projected values, etc,...). Anything that can minimize this tracking error, is regarded as excellent & robust algorithm. KF does an excellent job in the minimization of this tracking-error, so the approximation (projected or forecast) is close as possible to the target (rates as in forex or position (ie, x, y, z coordinates) as in Appollo).

    I reckon that without the establishment of Space Explorations in the 1960s, the advance of technology that we see today, is something that would have arrived in the future, say 2020 or 2030, but those have been fast-forwarded to today (2009) and this is due largely to researches that were associated with space programs of the 1960s, coupled with the birth of semi-conductor & micro-electronics development as around the same time and that is the man’s greatness that needs to be applauded.

  3. Oops, correction:

    I meant to say:

    I am NO rocket engineer,...

    and not:

    I am rocket engineer,...

  4. FF, either it is or it isn't rocket science. :-)

  5. Shane, it is rocket science of what engineers at NASA are doing, but anyone who happens to know the same techniques they used in developing those technologies, doesn't necessarily make that person a rocket engineer (as I have clarified in my message above).

    For example, the technique I described above (Kalman) which is used by engineers at NASA to develop guidance system is also used by economists as one of their tools for analysis, such as shown in the following discussion paper from analysts at our own NZ Reserve Bank:

    Estimates of time-varying term premia for New Zealand and Australia

    So, if the analysts at the NZ Reserve Bank, turned up at NASA for a job interview on the basis that they do know Kalman, I think that they would be shown the door the minute they walked in. The NZRB analyst's knowledge of Kalman doesn't automatically make him/her a rocket engineer and so the same thing applies to Falafulu.

  6. Falafulu, I am unfamiliar with either Kalman or Rocket Science. I am a little unusual it seems in my use of a mix of technical and fundamental analysis when it come to investment decisions, and at my frequent inability to resist jumping in when offered the opportunity to use the phrase "it's not rocket science" - albeit mindlessely. Bad habit on my fathers side, sort of "British school of punmaking".

    I watch with interest your bringing to market of the financial product you have. Great challenge!

  7. Anyway Shane, I see that you're working on Health & e-Commerce software. Are you keen to have some informal discussions about what you're doing? It is an area that I am interested in, but I got hooked into financial analytic domain that I have put my interest in medical informatics software aside for the time being.

    I discussed my idea about 18 months ago, via email with Ian McRae (CEO & founder) of Orien Health (Mt. Eden-based multi-national software company), that I could develop various engines (software libraries) for use in the development of various CDSS (Clinical decision support systems) by their developers. What I was proposing to Ian was something that I knew that none of their developers had the skills in doing those. Ian thought that it was a good idea, but they were concentrating on a major project, so it may be something that they would looked at in the future. I showed Ian some CDSS (peer reviewed) publications on such techniques (they don't read the medical informatics journals which they should if they want to be competitive), where my proposals were based on and I am sure that soon or later they will have to develop such applications, since their major competitors overseas are already deploying them.

    Finally, I will go back to my point above. I am not a doctor, but just happens to know certain techniques/algorithms that are being used in medical decision support systems. Knowing these techniques doesn't make Falafulu a clinician. Again, here is the application of Kalman Filter in medicine for use in onset detection of cardiac arrhythmia and it is one of a number of papers that I sent Ian McRae to take a look at:

    The variability of the R-R intervals in the ECG signal contains valuable information about the various types of arrhythmia that might be present. It has been recently suggested, that the identification of cardiac arrhythmia might be possible by applying spectral analysis methods. This paper intends to investigate the efficiency of a spectral analysis method, namely the application of the Kalman filter identifier in the calculation of time varying spectra of the R-R interval time series. The efficiency of the method is tested using the MIT-BIH database and another database built up at the Medical Clinic No. 3 of Tg. Mures; in particular, cases of bigeminy, trigeminy, second degree block and ventricular flutter have been tested. Tests have revealed, that this technique in most cases can detect the onset of arrhythmia and can also identify the arrhythmia that is present.

    Title: Application of the Kalman filter in cardiac arrhythmia detection.

    You can ask Dr Richard McGrath to give some clinical explanations of what is briefly described in the abstract above, because I don't have the in-depth knowledge about it, but if you want to ask about the math/algorithm cited in that paper, then sure you can ask me. My knowledge of the analytical technique doesn't make me a clinician as already stated above.

  8. You mean ACTUALLY providing cost effective health outcomes in the public health system? Really?

    Hell yes of course I am interested. Health informatics offer huge opportunities (as do implementation of LEAN techniques- or indeed ANY techniques).

    The question is one of buy-in. I have become hugely skeptical of NZ health services, as you have probably guessed by now!
    The opportunity for improvement requires the will to accept shortcomings.

    email me -

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