Who will make the next giant leap for mankind?
The passing of the man who made that one giant leap for mankind, should give us all pause to consider exactly what that small step signified.
The lunar landing was met by a universal reaction of awe and celebration that was much bigger than the efforts of one nation or one man. It was a celebration of human achievement. Neil Armstrong’s famous quote clearly ascribed the success to “mankind”, as did the plaque left by the mission, which read: “We came in peace for all mankind”.
It was a fine hour for America, but an even greater moment for the world.
Now, forty three years on, there are plenty of people willing to question what was actually achieved by the Apollo Missions to the moon. The space program is seen by many in the US as an expensive indulgence that can no longer be afforded, with the manned space shuttle program wound down in 2010.
It’s interesting to note that during the last US Presidential campaign, both Barack Obama and his opponent John McCain spoke of the need to maintain the space program, with McCain actually outlining a bold program to expand it and declaring “Let us now embark on this great journey into the stars to find whatever may await us.”
Not surprisingly, this time around – with the US debt around $15 trillion - neither Obama nor Romney are making space exploration part of the campaign rhetoric. There are other more pressing priorities. Which is fair enough, budgets must be balanced. But it is worth considering what is lost as a consequence.
The lunar landing, achieved with what is now considered practically primitive technology, was an effort akin to the early explorers who set out in small boats to discover what lay beyond the horizon. It touched something universal, at the heart of humanity.
The idea of manned space travel spoke to man’s desire to learn more, do more, and to achieve the impossible. The realisation of that idea was an affirmation of our ability to take risks, to innovate, to believe in the value of exploration as a means to collectively further ourselves.
That sort of “impossible dream” ideal seems lost in today’s risk-averse, tech-savvy society.
Sure, our technological advancements occur at a staggering pace - and many are hugely beneficial to mankind – but how many of them speak to that sense of discovery and adventure, and that element of personal risk, that has been the foundation of our collective advancement?
There is something wildly enriching about the concept of pushing human boundaries to test ourselves. Summed up best by British Explorer George Mallory who, when asked why he wanted to climb Mt Everest, said simply: “Because it’s there”. Mallory paid the ultimate price when he perished on the Mountain in his attempt – summing up the risk-taking nature of such bold endeavour.
But it is that sort of endeavour that has inspired countless men and women throughout history to do more and be more. And what would humankind be without it?
It is difficult to imagine the world without the achievements of men like Neil Armstrong, or George Mallory, or Edmund Hillary who did ultimately conquer Everest, or Magellan who set out to circumnavigate the globe…or any of the thousands of men and women throughout history who were determined to push the boundaries of exploration and achievement.
This year marks 40 years since man last stood on the moon – yes, it’s been that long. It’s worth pausing to think about what sort of human endeavours will enrich mankind in the future.
Are our children being imbued with that same sense of wonder and willingness to take risks to discover new horizons? Has our connectivity made the world so much smaller that exploration seems pointless or passé? Is our society so risk-adverse that adventure is now just imaginary fodder for books and movies? Are our kids so continually bombarded with the “reduce, conserve” message that quests for expansion or exploration now have negative connotations?
Neil Armstrong’s family, in a statement on his passing, said “we celebrate his remarkable life and hope that it serves as an example to young people around the world to work hard to make their dreams come true, to be willing to explore and push the limits, and to selflessly serve a cause greater than themselves”.
And mankind will be all the better for his example.
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