Recalling July 20 , 1969

As news anniversaries go, today’s quite a biggie: the 50th anniversary of astronaut Neil Armstrong walking on the moon for the first time. The “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” moment.

I imagine most Americans, and a lot of people from elsewhere remember the moment very well. One of the indelible moments etched into memories for life, enhanced by the then space-age fact that it could be shown on TV. I’m too young to really remember, but I’m told our family were camping somewhere like New Brunswick the day it happened and some people had brought along portable TVs to watch it on.

As a kid, I thought it was pretty cool. We drove near the Kennedy Space Center at least once when I was a youngster, seeing an Apollo rocket there sitting waiting to launch towards the moon a day or two later. I had a souvenir model of an Apollo rocket from Florida, about a foot high, that I kept on my bookshelf for years.

But as time has gone by, my opinion has become that NASA and Space Shuttles, Space Stations and all the rest are rather a massive waste of money. Been there, done that. It was rather cool, and useful I guess in the day to show we, as a species, could go to the moon, and find out what it was made of. Alas, not great cheese samples came back with the astronauts, just rocks! But do we really need to spend billions to explore Mars to confirm it would be an inhospitable place for people? I think the money is better spent making this planet better and more livable.

But in the spirit of the day, I do find some words of importance from Apollo. Neil Armstrong was in awe, apparently, when “it suddenly struck me that that tiny pea,pretty and blue, was earth!” He felt small and our world suddenly looked very finite. His crew mate Michael Collins said “I really believe that if the political leaders of the world could see their planet from a distance of say, 100 000 miles, their outlook would be fundamentally changed.” Various Russian cosmonauts have made similar remarks.

That makes sense to me. See the planet from space and you’d realize how beautiful it is compared to most solitary orbs in space, how there wasn’t much difference between Cuba and Florida, Russia or China from up there. That it was one planet we need to work together beyond national boundaries to protect and enhance.

So if Amazon and Virgin Atlantic and Elon Musk want to spend billions upon billions to fly people into space for a look see, I say go for it. Just make sure you take up the president of the U.S., the leader of China, the Russian premier, German chancellor, and a few titans of industry (especially the fossil fuel and chemical ones) up to take a look back. Maybe if even one felt the same way as Collins did, it would be worth the cash. One giant leap even.

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