It was the 50th anniversary of the first Moon landing on Saturday, apparently, and I managed to miss it.
The only reason I got to hear about it was through a Facebook post by a friend who was very disparaging about the whole thing; not only the anniversary, but the moon landings themselves.
Like a lot of people I know, she thinks that money spent of space exploration is a waste, when it could be spend doing more important things here on Earth.
Certainly there is a case for this. There are many urgent things that need doing. For instance, a recent study has concluded that we need to plant at least a trillion trees in the next 30 years to arrest climate change. Why spend money on exploring other planets, the argument goes, when our own planet is in such danger?
This is true, of course, but the grave danger our planet faces isn’t really because of space exploration.
The brief period when a few highly privileged human beings made that epic and unbelievable journey across the desolation of space, doesn’t account for the mess our world is in right now.
Indeed, at the time the moon landings were considered a contributing factor in the rise of global ecological awareness.
The famous photograph of the Earth taken from the Moon, showed just how small and fragile our planet is.
As one Apollo astronaut – Jim Lovell, Apollo 8 & 13 – put it: “The fact that just from the distance of the Moon you could put your thumb up, and you could hide the Earth behind your thumb… everything that you’ve ever known… all behind your thumb… (reminded us) how insignificant we really all are…”
You see, I think the economics behind my friend’s argument is wrong.
It’s not a case of money being better spent anywhere else. There’s a sound argument that says the economic system needs to be primed from the collective purse, and that research and development of cutting-edge technology filters down into innovations that benefit us all. It’s how computers came about, remember.
It’s also a question of what you think science is for.
At the moment the bulk of public money allocated to science is spent on figuring out better ways of blowing people up, while private capital is spent discovering exciting new ways of mixing avocado oil with conditioner to make your hair more shiny.
Me, I’d rather money was spent on space exploration and, one day maybe, going back to the moon again.
Maybe this time we can make a moon base.
There’s talk of building a telescope on the far side of the moon where Earth’s signal can’t impede it. Such a telescope could peer into the depths of time and space and see things we are unable to see from down here on Earth.
Mike Collins, who, along with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin was on the Apollo 11 mission, said: “After the flight the three of us went on an around the world trip. Wherever we went, people, instead of saying, ‘well you Americans did it’, everywhere they said, ‘we did it,’ – we human kind, we the human race, we people did it. I’d never heard people in different countries use this world ‘we’ … as emphatically as we were hearing from Europeans, Asians, Africans…. I thought that was a wonderful thing.”
That was the power the Moon landings had to bring the people of the Earth together.
Given the amount of money currently being spent on killing each other, don’t you think it is time we allowed ourselves to dream again?
From The Whitstable Gazette 25/07/19
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