Today marks the 40th Anniversary of Man’s first setting foot on another world, when Apollo 11 landed on the lunar surface, There’s the expected buzz on the internet, and a few television programs celebrating the event. At the moment, we’re watching Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 on UK television (ITV1).
I’ve always been a huge space exploration nut, so much so that my dad dragged me out of bed around 3.30am UK time on that long ago unforgettable day (I remember it vividly – I was only eight years old, and was a fan even then) to watch Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin take their first momentous steps onto the lunar surface. Even today I feel great excitement and elation whenever I read or watch anything to do with that golden age of space exploration. But I also feel a great sense of loss, of regret, and of anger.
Because the truth is that we had the stars in our hands and let them slip through our fingers.
To the current XBox playing, goldfish-attention-span generation, the moon landings mean absolutely nothing. They’re an irrelevancy, ancient history, something that happened way back when their parents were young. It shouldn’t be this way. Space travel, real space travel (not just space shuttle earth-to-low-orbit), should be a part of their everyday lives.
It’s a terrible shame that manned space exploration (outside of Earth’s orbit) died when the Apollo missions ended, scuppered by the nasty mix of public apathy and political connivance. Politicians won’t fund anything that doesn’t get them votes, and the public had lost interest, so the politicians therefore refused to continue funding the big bucks needed for this kind of space exploration.
So we lost it all, because of the dumb, apathetic general public and greedy, corrupt politicians. Wouldn’t ya know it. It makes me sick to even think about it. Ninety-nine percent of the general public can’t see past their daily fix of reality TV and sport, and politicians aren’t interested in anything that won’t get them votes, money or power.
We should’ve… would’ve… been “out there” now, with a lunar colony and a permanent base on Mars, just waiting to stretch our hands out and grasp the rest of the solar system. We should already be taking our earliest steps as a proper, space-faring species, out there, traveling regularly between Earth and the moon and even Mars, and looking with eager envious eyes at the asteroid belt and beyond, like Dan Dare and his Space Fleet.
For a dreamer and sci-fi/space exploration fan such as myself (and there are many, many others like me out there), it really, really sticks in my gut, every time one of these anniversaries of this glorious first lunar landing event comes around, and I look at the reality of what did happen, and think of what should’ve happened instead.
Think of it… we took our first steps on another world, and then just gave up and came home again, instead of keeping on going out there. So, so tragic, and absolutely pathetic.
There’s one vital thing those selfish, greedy, narrow-minded politicians and the ignorant, self-serving bulk of the population don’t seem to understand or care about. Space travel and exploration is not irrelevant or a waste of money. Our species simply has to move out into space to ensure its long-term survival. If we keep all our eggs in one basket (here on Earth), someday we’ll live (or won’t live) to regret it. We’ll become extinct, either through natural catastrophe, or we’ll destroy the environment, this world, ourselves, and we will have nowhere else to go.
Or else another stonking great rock will come at us from the depths of space, with Target Earth and RIP the Human Race written all over it. And it’ll be all their fault if our species dies off totally, and I hope they (or their descendants) remember that when the big space rock comes at us with our number written on it. It has happened quite a few times before during Earth’s history, and it’ll inevitably happen again. Maybe in a thousand years time, or ten thousand. Or it could just as easily be next week, or tomorrow. We should always be prepared for that eventuality, just in case, and setting up colonies on the Moon or Mars would be first steps towards ensuring that our species would not be wiped out, should the unthinkable ever happen. As I’ve already said, the old proverb about keeping all of our eggs in one basket is very apt here, and continuing to do so would be a very, VERY bad idea for humanity.
However, if we’re thinking about starting all over again, getting back out into space, we’d better get a move on. Our civilization only has a relatively small window of opportunity left, before the oil and other industrial resources are gone, and we no longer have the capability of launching space missions. After that, we really will be stuck here, with nowhere to go.
As I said at the beginning of the post, I’m watching Moonshot, but with a lot of mixed feelings. A sense of excitement and nostalgia, but also of anger and regret. And in my alternate world of “What Should Have Been”, I’ll be dreaming of those brave colonists striding across the surface of the Moon and Mars and conquering new frontiers for the human race.