My entire life has been shaped by the space program. From Star Trek to Science Fiction to Saturn V Rocket Models to Lunar Modules to Philip K. Dick to Star Wars, the evolution of man into the depths of space and the possibilities that entailed has been at the very core of my existence. Tomorrow marks the 40th anniversary of Apollo XI’s lunar landing. In one single moment, man walked on another celestial body and the whole world became a little smaller while the universe got a whole lot bigger.
For those of us growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, the space program always brought a sense of wonder to our lives. From the Mercury Program to Gemini to Apollo, the idea that we as a people could put men in space was something out of a Jules Verne book. But it wasn’t. It was real. When Apollo XI landed on the moon on July 20, 1969, every child in the US believed that anything was possible. Within 10 years, we would be on Mars. We would all be driving our own lunar modules around the solar system. We would seek out strange new worlds, new civilizations, boldly going where no man had gone before. What happened? Within five years of Apollo XI, the Apollo program was dead and we have not been back to the moon since.
Space has turned into the disappearing frontier. It was as if the US government had taken the chain around the space programs neck and pulled it back in. No longer would we, as human beings, leave the orbit of the Earth, only machines. And for the past 35 years, machines have gone everywhere in the solar system while we just hang around. The space shuttle program, despite two disasters has proved somewhat successful. Probes to Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and beyond have provided us with a huge amount of data not only about our solar system but ourselves. The Hubble telescope has reshaped the science of astronomy and physics.
As the first decade of the 21st century comes to a close, Man has been held back from exploring mainly because of money and partly because of a lack of interest. Only occasionally have the masses and NASA intermingled and that was a result of tragedy. Even the images from Hubble did not excite the public. Tomorrow’s anniversary is a triumph of many things. One is the fact that the computer I am typing on now can carry out more functions that the one used to land on the moon. There have been other advances in medicine, food, and science which is part of the reason for our high tech world.
But at some point, humans will have to go back into space. Whether it is to the Moon or to Mars, we will have to go. We can not stay on this planet forever. Otherwise, the final frontier will be a disappearing one. The International Space Station is a start but there has been talk recently of going back to the moon. This is a double edged sword. One, we can not afford to go. Two, we can’t afford not to go (I know, a double negative). The moon has long been thought of as a staging area for travel into deep space. The light gravity and maybe the presence of ice will enable the human race to advance beyond our own Earth system.
If we do not venture out as humans, all will have been for naught. Tomorrow’s anniversary will become in the future just one great leap for a man and a small step for a civilization too afraid to go where no one had gone before.