Divided Feelings About The New Space Boom

What it’s like when you’re a rocket nerd, an outer-space environmentalist, and opposed to Russia’s invasion

Clive Thompson
7 min readAug 22


The moon, bright and full and in closeup, against a black sky
Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash

Russia’s recent disaster of a moon landing has prompted some curiously divided feelings in me.

On the one hand, I’m super excited by the recent surge of moon missions. I was a young child in the mid-70s, when the Apollo moon landings were still ringing like a cultural bell; our elementary-school library was stocked with books about space and NASA’s moon landing, which I read and reread until the pages damn near fell out. I was thus a hardcore space nerd early on.

Some kids dreamed of going to the stars; I, being claustrophobic and terrified of flying even in a terrestrial plane, did not. But the idea of humanity reaching out to the inky void held a deep romance for me. When the Voyager probes began sending back the first ever close-up images of Jupiter, I stared with a wild surmise for hours at the pictures in National Geographic, wondering about the eldritch forces that roiled that planet’s banded clouds.

By the 90s and early 00s, though, the US space program contracted, particularly with regard to human space-travel. The US had no plans to return to the moon; the sprint to the surface had, it turns out, been primarily a fight with the USSR, and having won that race no-one in Congress cared a fig to learn more about it. The Space Shuttles — terribly-specced “airplanes made of glass”, as one critic described them, vehicles the design of which had been utterly deformed by Congressional compromise — were circling the planet and depositing satellites in orbit. But they went no further.

If you’d grown up assuming humanity would fly ever-deeper into space, it was pretty deflating.

A far-off image of the bright contrail of a SpaceX rocket arcing through the night sky
Photo by SpaceX on Unsplash

So a part of me was very cheered when rockets started blasting off again, en masse, in recent years.

Most of this activity was due to SpaceX. The engineers there had achieved remarkable innovations in rocketry. By figuring out how to land a rocket stage on the ground — then reusing that…



Clive Thompson

I write 2X a week on tech, science, culture — and how those collide. Writer at NYT mag/Wired; author, “Coders”. @clive@saturation.social clive@clivethompson.net