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I still vividly remember the excitement and awe which surrounded man's landing on the moon.
I read a Popular Science magazine (from the 1950s) the other day in which they predicted that man would first set foot on the moon in the year 2,000. When you think that it actually happened not much more than a decade after that prediction was made and a full 30 years ahead of schedule, the feat was even more amazing.
Just as gobsmacking was the fact that despite the huge risks associated with pushing the boundaries of the technology and science of the day, no lives were actually lost on any of the lunar missions.
But hang on... these missions are now ancient history, something I was reminded of this week when it was announced that the last man to walk on the moon, Gene Cernan, has died.
Wow... that really rams home just how long it's been since we visited the moon.
It's a tragedy for science and a tragedy for mankind.
So why is it that we simply said "job done" and then got on with other important things, such as making better weapons and delivery systems so as to destroy those whose political, ideological or religious views are not in accord with our own?
I wonder if we'd be on Mars by now if all the cash and human resources that have been poured into creating then fighting "enemies of the USA" had instead been poured into the exploration of space.
But the USA is not alone in this shift from exploration to annihilation. The Soviet Union and now Russia has also done its fair share of annexation and genocide -- as has China. It seems to be an activity hardwired into the human race.
So just why did we go to the moon in the first place?
One thing: pride.
Yep, it's supposed to be a sin but it was the driving force behind the USA's incredible accomplishment.
The Russians beat the USA into space, first with Sputnik then with Yuri Gagarin -- and (the then) President Kennedy wasn't going to be beaten to the moon.
Thus, heaven and earth were shifted and the goal was achieved, just in the nick of time. I say that because Kennedy promised that the US would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade (1960s) and the first landing took place on the 20th of July, 1969, with just 5 months to spare and just eight years after the proclamation was made.
Will we ever see national pride drive space exploration like this again?
I doubt it.
It seems to me that people around the world today (even in the USA) are far more interested in what's best for them as individuals, rather than what's good for the nation. I can't see any leader rallying widespread support for such huge levels of expenditure on something like sending people into the void of space.
It was a fortunate coincidence of timings that saw Kennedy manage this coup back in the 1960s. The USA was an incredibly wealthy nation and was still in the depths of a cold war with Russia which, they believed, had significant military superiority. Putting US astronauts on the moon was the USA's way of saying "back off Ivan".
Ah well, I'm saddened by the knowledge that I'm unlikely to see anything as bold, brave or exciting as man landing on the moon again in my lifetime -- but I am so pleased that I was around when it happened the first time.
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