We put a man on the moon, so why can’t we…?

Putting a man on the moon really opened a can of worms. More precisely, it gave us an overused preface to a widely varied phrase: “If we can put a man on the moon, why can’t we …’’ Here are a few memorable questions following that phrase, some serious, some not.

Doctor hired by farmers' cooperative health association examining a sick boy in Fairfield Bench Farms, Montana in 1939. (Arthur Rothstein/Library of Congress)
Doctor hired by a farmers’ cooperative health association examining a sick boy in Fairfield Bench Farms, Mont., in 1939. (Arthur Rothstein/Library of Congress)

1. Why can’t we cure the common cold?

Perhaps that’s the most common complaint. Doctors cannot develop a vaccine to prevent all of its various strains. “The common cold is not the same infection every year. It keeps mutating,” David Sheehan, University of South Florida health professor, told digitalbullpen.com blog. “The bug next year is different from the bug this year.”

 

2. Why can’t we make a prescription bottle that’s easy to open?

This is Jerry Seinfeld’s complaint at the start of an episode of his long-running sitcom titled “The Dinner Party.’’ Another variant in the episode, uttered by George (Jason Alexander) about he and Kramer are blocked in by a double-parked car: “We can put a man on the moon, but we’re basically still very stupid. The guy whose car this is? He could be one of the guys who built the rocket.’’

 

3. Why can’t we stop climate change?

VINCENNES BAY, ANTARTICA - JANUARY 11: Giant tabular icebergs are surrounded by ice floe drift in Vincennes Bay on January 11, 2008 in the Australian Antarctic Territory. Australia's CSIRO's atmospheric research unit has found the world is warming faster than predicted by the United Nations' top climate change body, with harmful emissions exceeding worst-case estimates. (Photo by Torsten Blackwood - Pool/Getty Images)
Giant tabular icebergs are surrounded by ice floe drift in the Australian Antarctic Territory in 2008. (Torsten Blackwood/Getty Images)

Former vice president Al Gore asked that question, which NASA historian Steve Dick tried to answer in a 2009 interview. The upshot, the historian said: “The technology is one thing, but you may not be able to solve the problems of global climate change with technology alone. I think it’s a lot more amorphous. There would have to be many different technologies. Not one single technology that you focus on.’’

 

4. Why can’t we cure cancer?

390487 02: (FILE PHOTO) Close up of cancer cells in the cervix. Cancer of the uterine cervix, the portion of the uterus that is attached to the top of the vagina. (Photo by American Cancer Society/Getty Images)
A close-up of cancer cells in the cervix. (American Cancer Society via Getty Images)

Various cancers are projected to keep rising. The World Health Organization estimates that 12 million people will be killed annually as of 2030. But why? ‘’Even the knowledge of cancer’s biology is unlikely to eradicate cancer fully from our lives. We might as well focus on prolonging life rather than eliminating death,’’ writes Columbia University oncologist Siddhartha Mukherjee in the 2011 book “The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer.’’ Bummer.

5.Why can’t we have satellite navigation that understands apostrophes?

A British cabinet minister asked this question in March after local governments began removing apostrophes from street names and road signs. Traditionalists fought the changes, inserting proper punctuation on the signs with black markers.


A picture combination shows road signs featuring apostrophes in London. (Carl Court/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)

6. Why can’t we wean ourselves from using polluting fossil fuels for energy?

SCHWEDT, GERMANY - JANUARY 09: An exhaust flame burns at the PCK crude oil refinery January 9, 2007 near the Polish border in Schwedt, Germany. Crude oil from Russia has stopped flowing to the PCK refinery since 6:00 AM January 8 due to a row between Russia and Belarus over how much Belarus should pay for Russian oil. Initial reports claimed Belarus had turned off the flow of crude oil through the "Druzhba" pipeline as a means to negotiate a better price. German oil reserves are still substantial, though Chancellor Angela Merkel announced her country must not depend too much on one source for its energy needs. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
An exhaust flame burns at a PCK crude oil refinery. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

President Obama raised the issue in June 2010, after the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. If anything, challenging carbon-based fuels is getting more difficult, as a technique known as fracking has revitalized U.S. fuel production – and made American manufacturing costs more competitive.

7. Why can’t we end world hunger?

In 2012, the chief executive of Cargill said the world would have to increase its agricultural production 70 percent in the next four decades to do so. How? Greg Page suggested better trade policies, rethinking how much we divert from food production to make biofuels and helping African nations develop best practices to grow more food.


Combine harvesters crop soybeans during a demonstration for the news media in Brazil in 2012. (Yasuyoshi China/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)

8. Why can’t we find a shirt that stays on Matthew McConaughey?

This was one of 33 items selected by Buzzfeed in its March compendium. The list also included a self-sorting sock drawer, bunk waterbeds, nail polish and pantyhose that lasts, a Slinky that doesn’t get tangled and a way to eat chicken wings cleanly.

9.Why can’t we make killer robot police?

In a 1997 editorial, the satirical site the Onion expressed the need for such an advance, at least “to keep the cars from roaring down my street at 45 miles per hour? What kind of priorities do we have in this country?’’

 

10.Why don’t we send astronauts to Mars?

That’s the big question of Buzz Aldrin, the second NASA astronaut to set foot on the Moon. He told The Post’s Joel Achenbach that the United States should skip follow-up Moon missions to focus on the red planet. He added: Those first astonauts must be prepared for a one-way trip, to live out their lives on Mars.


This computer-generated image depicts Mars at the boundary between darkness and daylight. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Readers, let us know how would you complete the sentence, “We can put a man on the moon, but we can’t …’ Please let us know in the comments section below.

David Beard is a writer, editor and director of digital content for The Post. He also edits The Optimist, a weekly e-newsletter, and has been a foreign correspondent.
Nick Kirkpatrick is a digital photo editor at The Washington Post. Follow him on Instagram or on Twitter.
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