Today (20 July 2019) we celebrate that “Giant Leap for Mankind” that happened on 20 July 20, 1969, at 20:17 UTC. Conspiracy lovers please leave now as this post may offend.
I was 8 years old when this amazing event happened around me, and unlike most of the world we never saw it happen live due to the “verkrampte” policies and mindset of the National Party who “governed” South Africa at the time. TV had still not arrived in the country so we really had to rely on the print media and the newsreels at the bioscope if we wanted to see footage. Like most kids back then I wanted to be an astronaut (Actually I wanted to be a sailor but that’s another story), little knowing what an astronaut was or did. All we knew was they rode in ginormous spaceships and popped into space and occasionally rescued scantily clad women from tentacled aliens. That was the theory at any rate, and poor eyesight, mathematics and citizenship ensured that I stood zero chance of making it anyway.
From a technology point of view the moon landings were one heck of an achievement, and I think global citizens thought that colonisation of the moon and outer space would follow in short thrift. Unfortunately the Apollo program only ran until December 1972 and once it ceased so our exploration of the lunar surface ceased too, and the success of the Space Shuttle was almost an anticlimax. Apart from the men who were killed in Apollo 1 (Command Pilot Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, Senior Pilot Ed White, and Pilot Roger B. Chaffee) and the near disaster of Apollo 13, it was a successful program, albeit a very expensive successful program.
The list of things that could go wrong is a long one, and we are fortunate that everything worked and that we are all alive here to celebrate. There were schools of thought that considered that the moon would crash down on earth if we landed on the moon, or that we would bring back some strange microbe from space and let it loose on earth by accident. Science fiction is a wonderful genre to read and watch, but nothing like our reality. We never did colonise our moon or launch manned missions beyond the moon, although there have been many successful unmanned missions that have exceeded their original parameters and continue to provide tantalising glimpses of our galaxy.
The question is often asked whether we would/should go back to the moon. Personally I think we have more important issues to solve on our home planet, and climate change is the biggest of these. Our spaceship Earth is a small fragile place when viewed from the “magnificent desolation” of the moon, and we really need to concentrate on fixing it for the billions instead of expending vast amounts of money to send a few men or women to the moon.
Technology-wise we could probably build the hardware but the paperwork, risk assessments and amount of managers and bean counters needed would make the Apollo program look small. Besides, it is easier and cheaper to send probes and drones to do the dangerous work for us, piloted by some hotshot gamer geek who can “make the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs”. Let’s face it, landing man on the moon in in the 2000’s just does not have the same impact as it did 50 years ago.
Let us remember this achievement for what it was and ignore the conspiracists who say it never happened. Let us remember the courage of those 3 men who were so far from home and help that they were certainly doomed had too many things gone wrong. Let us remember the day the world stood in awe as we took that giant leap. And let us hope that one day long in the future people will see that landing site once again and I suspect that selfies would happen, like buttons would be pressed, statuses would be updated and vapid celebs will realise that in the grand scheme of things their contribution to our planet is zero, and that walking on the moon is way, way cooler.
DRW © 2019. Created on the 50th anniversary of the moon landings. Images are property of NASA and are not copyrighted but freely available for use. Images from https://www.nasa.gov/specials/apollo50th/index.html More information from https://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/guidelines/index.html.