Neil Armstrong v. John Galt

By Bill Moore

Posted: 26 Aug 2012

There's a minor boulevard that runs through the heart of a local business park here in Omaha named after a fictional character in Ayn Rand's novel 'Atlas Shrugged.' Forbes magazine contributor Rob Clarfeld described John Galt as epitomizing 'all that is glorious of capitalism in its purist form — innovation, self-reliance, and freedom from government interference." In order words, he's the ideal Libertarian, the quintessential Tea Party candidate. He is the male surrogate, who, in a tiresome 64-page monologue, propounds much of what Rand believed about society, its winners and the losers, its deserving elite, its undeserving poor.

Galt's name not only appears on street signs, but on coffee mugs and tee-shirts, along with some of Rand's more famous (or infamous, depending on your perspective) quotations, such as "I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine."

In contrast, NASA astronaut Neil Armstrong, who just passed away at the age of 82, was no less eloquent in his personal philosophy, stating, for example, "I guess we all like to be recognized not for one piece of fireworks, but for the ledger of our daily work."

One spectacular piece of fireworks, however, made him far more immortal than Rand's John Galt. He will be forever remembered as the first man to walk on Earth's moon, uttering the now timeless phrase, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

What separates Armstrong from Galt, apart from the fact that one is a real life, flesh and blood human being and hero, and the other is the fictitious machination of deeply troubled soul who, as a teenager, witnessed the Bolsheviks appropriate her parent's prosperous St. Petersburg pharmacy business in the 1917 Russian revolution, is that what Armstrong accomplished was made possible by the kind of government program Rand and her libertarian acolytes despise and denigrate. That Apollo mission, and those that preceded it (Mercury, Gemini) and those that followed (Skylab, Space Shuttle, ISS), were only possible through the joint efforts of tens of thousands of people, not to mention, billions in taxpayer dollars. With complete justification, we Americans and those who aided us from Africa to Australia, could hang a banner across the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum's space exhibit stating "We, The People Built This... Collectively!"

John Galt and his "I Built It" ilk would never have condoned it, much less funded it. It took vision and the federal government, through NASA, to coordinate such a massive undertaking and pay the bills. Only now, after the technologies have been tried and tested, at government expense, can private companies like SpaceX enter the commercial market for manned space flight.

When Rand published 'Atlas Shrugged' in 1957, the hated Soviets were the masters of space. Sputnik was a wake-up call and the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA) became NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration the following year. By 1969, the United States had won the "Race to the Moon," and the process spun off countless new enterprises and products that dramatically increased both the wealth and prestige of the nation. It was capitalism with a government booster rocket. If there is a true, 20th century high water market for America, it had to be that day in July, 1969 when Armstrong radioed from the moon, "Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed."

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