Monday, July 20, 2009

One Small Step

So this is it. Forty years ago millions of people were glued to their TV sets as Apollo 11 made its final approach to the Sea of Tranquility and for the first time a manned vehicle landed on the moon. Of course what the world was really waiting for was the emergence of Commander Neil Armstrong to lead the way.

"This is one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind"

That was it. People of my generation and my parents were hooked on space. Even those of us who weren't around to see that first lunar walk live had the desire to follow suit. I was rewatching one of James Mays 21st Century programmes on Dave last night which started with him saying, "At the age of six I wanted to be an astronaut". Like many of us we did, until we realised when we got older me needed probably two science degrees to get unto the programme.

At 7 I wrote seven pages in my English jotter n one hour on the subject "Journey to the Moon" the teacher wrote at the end "Is this finished?". Hardly I'd barely got my Saturn 6 rocket out of Earth's gravity, but the monster had attacked the crew. Its hardly any wonder that when my father died I got offered his Arthur C. Clark and Issac Asimov collections.

But we watched sci-fi on TV Star Trek, Doctor Who, Blakes 7, Buck Rogers, not just as escapism but to wonder what was coming next. Many scientists were inspired by what they saw. My current mobile phone looks a lot like a trimmed down version of that first communicator from Star Trek. It was also made by the company that had allowed us to hear Armstrong's words from the surface of the moon.

It may well have been a giant leap for mankind when we put our first men on the moon. Since 1973 we haven't lept further. Indeed I heard one comment over the weekend (I think it was May again) the Saturn 5 rockets were the sports cars of the space age, since then we're merely pottered about opened the sunroof and peeked out into it. Not a bad description of the space shuttle really.

There is a lot of science we have done in space down the 40 years since. A lot of that is experimentation some of it is preparation. The preparation is to provide survival techniques for man to exist more than a few days away from Mother Earth and all the abundance she provides. But we've yet to aim for the third star on the left and keep going, but maybe that day will come.

Our one small step unto another world is all we've taken thus far. That's not a walk let alone a leap. Do we still dream of what going further may mean to an increasingly crowded, under-resourced, over-populated earth?

Forty years ago we did it because it was hard. We need to look after our resources now too not because it's easy but because it is hard.

1 comment:

Matthew Huntbach said...

It was assumed that getting to the moon would be a step towards getting to the stars. That was a mistaken assumption.

Getting to the moon involved physics and technology which have been understood for centuries. Galileo and Newton would have understood the principles.

Getting to the stars, if it ever could be done, would involve some radically new understanding we don't have and don't have any signs of acquiring. It can't be done just by extending the technology we used to get to the moon, the distances are vastly vastly different.

So the moon landings proved to be something that had to be done at some time because it could be done, but after that, so what? All it really said was that if we put vast amounts of effort into it we could do it, but we knew that anyway. There are plenty of other pointless things we could do if we put huge amounts of effort into them.


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