I will be honest; I don’t know where I was on this day (July 20) in 1969. I think I was at my momma’s parent’s house in North Carolina but we might have still been at our house in Memphis. What I do know is that I did watch Neal Armstrong descend the ladder of the “Eagle” and take that first step on the moon.
What I find interesting about today, July 20, 2011, is that on the anniversary of our first landing on the moon we are effectively ending our presence in space. The last space shuttle is landing in a couple of days and it will be a long, long time before we ever go back into space on our own. Oh, I know that we will still send people into space but it will be in Soyuz spacecraft to rendezvous with the International Space Station. But it will not be the same.
The Soyuz seems to be a reliable spacecraft and it will do the job that it is required to do but it cannot take large loads into space. And if we cannot take large loads into space I personally don’t see how we can do much of anything in space. The International Space Station will continue to fly for a few years but, like all machines, it wears out and parts break and need to be fixed. Sooner or later (hopefully much later), the ISS will return to Earth in a blaze of fire and light. And mankind’s presence in outer space will be no more.
Society seems to have marginalized science, technology, and exploration. When the cost of the Viet Nam War got too great, we cut back on the missions to the moon. And now we are doing the same thing. Other costs, the war in Afghanistan, the fight over the budget and the country’s debt, are draining this country’s resources. The replacement for the Hubble Space Telescope has apparently been cancelled. There is a plan to go to the moon but it is a long time away and it will probably be cancelled. I read somewhere that we have lost our ability to use the information we gained from our only trips to the moon back in 1969, 1970, and 1971.
I wouldn’t mind it if the argument was caring for people at home and exploring space but we balance the cost of exploration against our military expenditures and I don’t think those should be our priorities. People and the protection of people, not their destruction, must be our priority. As long as we have the mentality that we must spend money on weapons and destruction and feel that this brings us a better life, we will never have a better life.
I look at the attitude towards science today and wonder if we even care what’s out there in space. There is a generation who has never watched someone walk on the moon. We are on the verge of creating a generation that will never know what it means to live and work in space. We have lost our sense of curiosity, we no longer ask questions. We live in the present and fear what tomorrow brings.
But what’s worse is that we don’t have any plan to eliminate that fear. We spend our money on destruction and fear, not on hope and promise. When we cut funds, we cut the support for people. We have turned our schools into factories that turn out mindless robots, incapable of independent thought, instead of curious students, seeking to find answers to new questions, questions that expand our horizon. And why should students even thing about looking beyond the horizon.
We stand at the edge of the great unknown. We have effectively taken away our ability to even peer into that area. Forty some years from today, will we see earth from outer space as we did forty years ago? Will be reaching out beyond the solar system? Or will we even wonder what might be out there?
It is something to think about on this day in history.