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.

These are some pretty big space boots to fill. Photo: Herald Sun

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.

Comments on this post will close at 8pm AEST

Most commented


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    • M says:

      07:11am | 29/08/12

      “Is our society so risk-adverse that adventure is now just imaginary fodder for books and movies? “

      Does the fact that parents drive their kids to school and fear them playing in their own suburbs answer your question?

    • Al says:

      08:37am | 29/08/12

      Concur, Not allowed to do hand stands and cartwheels either.

      If there is further space travel it will be commercially driven or from a government that is capable of planning past a single election cycle - which pretty much rules out every western government.

    • Mr. Jordon says:

      07:16am | 29/08/12

      Hey Sophie, who paid to put man on the Moon?

      That’s right, socialism.

    • Arthur says:

      08:43am | 29/08/12

      “That’s right, socialism. “

      What the?


    • marley says:

      08:52am | 29/08/12

      @ Mr. Jordan - “Socialism?”  Not unless you’ve got some new definition of the term that doesn’t involve workers controlling the means of production.

    • nihonin says:

      08:58am | 29/08/12

      Arthur, cause Mr. Jordon says so, that’s how.

    • Mr. Jordon says:

      09:01am | 29/08/12

      Tax payer funded. It was a government program.

    • Get rid of both parties says:

      09:21am | 29/08/12

      @Mr. Jordon

      Socialism is the curse of western society. It will bring us all down. There are signs everywhere you look.

      Mark my words. It will not be long now.

    • marley says:

      09:25am | 29/08/12

      @Mr. Jordan - the army is taxpayer funded.  That hardly makes it socialist. 

      Governments and taxpayers fund all sorts of initiatives and projects and have done since the days the Romans built viaducts or the Chinese constructed the Great Wall.  That has nothing to do with socialism.

    • Mr. Jordon says:

      09:29am | 29/08/12


      If it wasn’t socialism than neither is the NBN, Medicare, or the ABC etc…

      Oh and was there a cost benefit analysis does on the space program at any point?

    • Mr. Jordon says:

      10:04am | 29/08/12

      @ marley says: 09:25am | 29/08/12

      Yes it is. The Army is government funded, government run and government controlled. And the Army generates no income of its own.

      No different from public hospitals or public schools.

    • iansand says:

      07:25am | 29/08/12

      Coalition says “No”.

    • Michael says:

      08:26am | 29/08/12

      No, Iansand says coalition says no.

    • iansand says:

      09:15am | 29/08/12

      No.  Michael says iansand says Coalition says no.

      This is fun.  Can any moron join in, or is it just for you and me?

    • Michael says:

      10:16am | 29/08/12

      I accept your definition of self, feel free to demonstrate at your leisure.

    • 3rd Eye Blind says:

      11:15am | 29/08/12

      Speaking in the third person, as Freud would have said “verrrrry intervesting”.

    • John says:

      07:38am | 29/08/12

      Since we never went back to the Moon, maybe we never went to moon. I’m looking at the picture at this moment! Where is the crater hole?

      Logistical, if we did, why have we not created a base there? Why don’t we go there and come back?

    • M says:

      07:54am | 29/08/12

      We’re whalers on the moon
      We’re whalers on the moon
      But there ain’t no whales
      so we tell tall tales
      And sing a whaling tune.

    • Tubesteak says:

      08:11am | 29/08/12

      We did go back to the moon. A few times. What’s the financial benefit of establishing a base on the moon? Does it have minerals we can mine? It can’t grow food for us and to bring the food back would be prohibitively expensive? Probably same with the minerals.

      You may want to do some research that’s not from the crackpot tinfoil hat blogosphere.

    • colin says:

      08:21am | 29/08/12

      @John 07:38am | 29/08/12

      Please tell me you’re joking.

      If not, then your tinfoil hat is showing.

    • Gregg says:

      08:50am | 29/08/12

      Have a close look at the photograph and you can see someone forgot to take the star pickets out of the farm paddock.

    • bael says:

      08:57am | 29/08/12

      Helium 3

    • Mr. Jordon says:

      09:04am | 29/08/12

      We did go back to the moon. Several times in fact.

      Next you’ll be asking we’re are the stars in the background of the photos.

    • colin says:

      09:43am | 29/08/12

      @Gregg 08:50am | 29/08/12

      Crikey, you’re right! That fake photo must’ve been taken out the back of Bourke…

    • ausspud says:

      12:54pm | 29/08/12

      Where the hell do you think we’ve been getting our cheese John.

    • HappyG says:

      07:43am | 29/08/12

      Good article Sophie. To your list you could add Charles Kingsford Smith, Jaques Costeau, Ernest Shackleton and Amelia Erhardt. It’s a real pity there doesn’t seem to be that type take the risk, accept the consequences type of person out there any more.

    • colin says:

      08:41am | 29/08/12

      @HappyG 07:43am | 29/08/12

      “t’s a real pity there doesn’t seem to be that type take the risk, accept the consequences type of person out there any more.”

      Is that you, then? Off to the Antarctic next week in a wooden whaling boat? Building your own rocket to take you into the stratosphere?

      Or sitting in your chair metaphorically shaking your fist at the world and writing blog posts..?

    • nihonin says:

      11:18am | 29/08/12

      ‘Or sitting in your chair metaphorically shaking your fist at the world and writing blog posts..? ‘

      Now that colin, was genuinely funny….....cheers

    • colin says:

      12:15pm | 29/08/12

      nihonin 11:18am | 29/08/12

      I’ll let you in on a secret - don’t tell anyone - everything I say is tongue-in-cheek…

      Even this.

    • nihonin says:

      12:56pm | 29/08/12

      Ah comprende’  wink

      So is this colin wink

    • iMitchy says:

      01:53pm | 29/08/12

      Still a lot of explorers out there - Surfers (including bodyboarders).

      And even crazier is that what they search for is ever changing and sometimes not there at all, depending on the weather. That’s true adventure.

    • colin says:

      07:47am | 29/08/12

      “Sure, our technological advancements occur at a staggering pace - and many are hugely beneficial to mankind…”

      Yes, and virtually none of them would have evolved if it weren’t for the Space Program. Those who would denigrate space travel because of its “Enormous cost” have no real idea of the spin-off benefits from the research, development and application of technology propagated by space exploration. Our health, our safety, and our lifestyle are very much products of this.

      As for our next great astronaut? Well he will probably be Chinese, for a start.

    • Gregg says:

      08:18am | 29/08/12

      You usually do get your fair share of detractors Sophie and not so much that I want to be one today but I’ll share an alternative view

      ” That sort of “impossible dream” ideal seems lost in today’s risk-averse, tech-savvy society. “

      It is not so much as being different to what you say about a dream but more so that it is the very basics of life for which so many have a nightmare of an existence and the situation globally is far from improving for all the technological improvements.

      ” Sure, our technological advancements occur at a staggering pace - and many are hugely beneficial to mankind !!!!!!!! ”
      Sure, some are but we certainly have no real idea or lets say where we do have some, there is a lot of conjecture and very little cohesive action for all mankind.

      The next giant leap for mankind will be made when something can be done to resolve crisis of populations, poverty, impact on the environment, death and violence, all also seeming to be increasing at a staggering pace.
      Is technology helping or contributing?

      There’s certainly nothing enriching about any of that and we should be pushing boundaries to find answers.
      ” British Explorer George Mallory who, when asked why he wanted to climb Mt Everest, said simply: “Because it’s there”.

      Yes, it is indeed there!

      It may be people different to Mallory, Armstrong or Hillary that are needed in great abundance.
      For all the exploration that has been done around the planet and beyond, we in the so called west and civilised world are so so fortunate to live in a vacuum, pierced by technology which brings us glimpses of what is outside.

      The news broadcasts and shows like last nights SBS GBTWYCF give an inkling of what it is like in many places, even someone like Peter Reith who we would have always thought of as a hardened politician put somewhat back on his backside by what he saw.

      ” 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? “

      Neil Armstrong saw himself as a pretty ordinary bloke, a reluctant hero you could say and in all reality, I suspect being first on the moon will have nought to do with how we can enrich the future of all mankind.
      All that exploration and a 15 Trillion $$$$ debt and yet so much violence and so many empty stomachs.

      Maybe for once we need to say Julia is leading the way in helping to keep the population down.
      Should we export her as an example?
      Now there’s an idea!

    • acotrel says:

      08:19am | 29/08/12

      ‘Who will make the next giant leap for mankind?’

      The Ovens river is right outside your door, why don’t you leap in there ?
      I haven’t seen you ask a question of Kim Carr about ‘innovation’ yet .  Perhaps you could ask him how R&D into renewables is going ?

    • colin says:

      08:51am | 29/08/12

      @acotrel 08:19am | 29/08/12

      i take it from your invitation for Sophie to jump in the river that you are not a fan of evolving the human race then, Acotrel?

      R&D on renewables? Yes, that’ll get us a long way. You do know that solar panels, recycled oxygen, recycled water, fuel cells and a myriad other so-called “Green” technologies were developed for space exploration, don’t you..?

      You don’t, do you? You, like so many other Green-types think that they were all invited by some dread-locked tinkerer on his farm in Nimbin or some-such, don’t you?

    • Arthur says:

      08:48am | 29/08/12

      ..............“Who will make the next giant leap for mankind?”................

      The next giant leap should be someone to convince the idiot governments of the world that we have reached a tipping point where further growth is eroding what it sets out to achieve. Reduce population both here and globaly.

      Australia is running out of resources, is it smart to keep populating? What will fund a larger population in years to come? There has never been a more selfish, greedy and dumb couple of generations.

    • SimpleSimon says:

      08:48am | 29/08/12

      A surprisingly good article, considering the source. I’d prefer to hear Sophie talking more like this, instead of the usual roadblock to progression attitude she exudes.

    • Get rid of both parties says:

      08:57am | 29/08/12

      Haven’t you got a government to oppose Sophie?

      Neither of these parties care about Australians. Get rid of them both.

    • JamesH says:

      09:13am | 29/08/12

      The US is paranoid about the possibility (or should I say inevitability) that an astronaut will die in space.  It is seen as bad PR.  Yet the great exploration feats of humankind have always gone hand in hand with the risk of death.  People in the past didn’t fear death as people do now.  Only by conquering this fear will we take the risks to push our boundaries again.  And, before the detractors start with their “corrections” NASA officially stated that they have never lost an American astronaut in space.  They consider the Challenger and Columbia disasters to be events that happened on Earth since the spacecraft were destroyed in our atmosphere.

    • MD says:

      09:14am | 29/08/12

      Don’t worry, in 20-30 years when the current generation of 20 something nerds get into positions of power, we’re going to be sending as many spacecraft as we can to wherever we can.

      Why? Because space is fucking cool, that’s why.

    • Get rid of both parties says:

      10:15am | 29/08/12

      Cool won’t cut it in 20 to 30 years time.

      There’ll be far more to worry about than cool.

      Resources will be depleted, population will be higher, food will be scarce, oil probably gone.

      There’ll be a whole lot more to worry about. It’s sad people can’t see what we’re causing. We have a small window to do something about it, but the opportunity is closing rapidly.

    • M says:

      10:21am | 29/08/12

      Word. I’m gaining valuable resources experience atm in preparation for the inevitabur mine on the moon.

    • Black Dynamite says:

      10:11am | 29/08/12

      Can someone explain to me how mankind has benefited as a result of Armstrong walking on the moon?


    • m says:

      10:36am | 29/08/12

      Well for a start he inspired a generation of conspiracy theorists.

    • Bengeck says:

      12:19pm | 29/08/12

      Tang, it gave us Tang. also Microwaves, Impact foam, Modern PC’s.(thats a bit of a long bow but the company that worked on the control modules. some of them later formed IBM, so they gained EXP and then etc you get the idea.)
      there’s a website that lists every thing that came out of the space race.  A good read.

    • Steve says:

      02:38pm | 29/08/12

      @Bengeck : Did they invent time travel too so that they could travel back to 1911 to form IBM?

      The Apollo Guidance Computers were made by the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory - which incidentally went on to make a whole bunch of other military stuff, as well as autopilots for aircraft, digital fly-by-wire systems, fault-tolerant computers, and MEMS technology which is how your smartphone knows which way is up.

    • neo says:

      03:10pm | 29/08/12

      No benefit, just the USA playing catch up because they lost the space race.

    • Ian1 says:

      03:40pm | 29/08/12


    • cityboy says:

      10:55am | 29/08/12

      Given Sophie’s sudden interest in space travel, I for one would be happy to chip in a few bucks to send her on her way~  only a one-way ticket mind you!

    • P. Darvio says:

      11:03am | 29/08/12

      In Australia we give militant religionists $32 Billion a year in direct grants or tax breaks - just 1/10 of that amount each year for 10 years we (Australia) could put humans on the Moon.

      The problem is our priorities are wrong.

    • Dan says:

      04:35pm | 29/08/12

      “militant religionists” nuns, priests and monks. How much of that $32 billion is school, hospital and nursing home related P?

    • willie says:

      11:30am | 29/08/12

      The day before the Apollo 11 astronauts walked on the moon John Fairfax completed the first solo row across an ocean.  He received a letter from the moon men.

      “Yours, however, was the accomplishment of one resourceful individual, while ours depended upon the help of thousands of dedicated workers in the United States and all over the world. As fellow explorers, we salute you on this great occasion.”

      Fairfax died February this year.

    • Mickey T says:

      12:35pm | 29/08/12

      Well knock me over with a feather. An article from Sophie and not one mention of the carbon tax or knocking the government. Congratulations Sophie Mirabella. Is this a sign of things to come? CT not the beast they made it out to be?

    • Uranus says:

      12:50pm | 29/08/12

      Sophie Mirabella, as the next Prime Minister of Australia, will make the next giant leap for mankind.

    • Ian1 says:

      02:56pm | 29/08/12

      Whom I cannot say but I do hope that next person is a woman.

    • neo says:

      03:05pm | 29/08/12

      Yuri Gagarin - first in space 12 April 1961.

      Everyone else was just following in his footsteps.

    • Jay says:

      03:32pm | 29/08/12

      Space exploration will eventually be orchestrated by Private industry. At the moment they do not appreciate what resources are available. Once they do then a complete new industry will open and take it away from the hands of the bureaucrats like NASA.

    • iansand says:

      04:16pm | 29/08/12

      NASA is still giving a lot of funding to the private enterprise guys and none of them would be anywhere without R&D done by NASA.


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