Monday, July 21, 2014

Happy 45th Anniversary Apollo 11! (a day late)

Yeah, I know this is coming a day late, but here it is anyway. Forty-Five years ago yesterday, Neil Armstrong became the first earthling to step down upon the surface of another heavenly body other than the Earth. It was that famous, "One small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind" moment most people now remember from their classes in school. For many of us who were alive and old enough to remember back then, it was one of those extremely rare, shared moments in our lives when one's sense of self and sense of humanity radically changes. After the moon landing, traveling out into space was no longer confined to the world of science fiction and fantasy. We could, if we were so inclined, settle space. And suddenly the idea that we could become a multi-planetary species wasn't so far-fetched. For me, the next similar sized impact we might experience would be a human landing on Mars, or more so for me at least, the establishment of a permanent human habitation off-planet. I think the first baby born off-planet will clinch our status as a space traveling species. For me that will be the next big earth-shattering human accomplishment. Neil and Buzz Aldrin only spent a few hours on the lunar surface, then headed back into orbit to meet up with Michael Collins in the command module and then returned to Earth. The other Apollo moon landings would stay longer, would include golf and driving on the lunar surface, and discovery of many mineral specimens that would fundamentally alter our view of the Earth and Moon's place in the solar system. Strangely, for all of the radical thought-shifting the moon landing accomplished, something odd happened afterwards. Almost the day after Apollo 11's return, space travel became "old hat". Interest in the moon landings slacked off pretty quickly. By the time Apollo 17 was leaving the moon, the TV stations had moved on to other programming. What many thought of as the greatest accomplishment of mankind became eclipsed by the War in Vietnam, the equal rights movement, and other Earth-based concerns (All worthy concerns, mind you). The space program, without the clear goal of beating the Russians to the moon, became unfocused and altered into a huge ungainly bureaucracy. I suppose it has something to do with human nature or the American culture, that we lose interest in great moments once they have passed, but I hope that someday we will again find our adventurous spirit and head back out into space in earnest. Until that time, I will write posts on the anniversary of events like this to remind readers (and myself) of our potential for greatness.