20 July, 2018

Raising our eyes to the stars

Happy Moon Day!  On this day, in 1969, people first set foot on the surface of the moon.  I was nine years old.  The computer in the Apollo spacecraft had less computing power that the cheap digital watch you might get today in a Happy Meal.  There was a lot of math involved, of course, but it was generally done on the ground, and much of it with slide rules.  It's hard to remember, sometimes, just how much has changed.

Apollo was a decade-long, incremental, and monumental project.  Only two countries could have assembled the raw power necessary to get to the moon, and one of them pushed so far past the limits of their capabilities that their best minds died in an explosion linked directly to the politics of an arbitrary deadline.  Today there are billionaires in the process of building orbital hotels.  Some are making plans to skip the moon entirely and head directly for Mars.

It was, in many ways, the equivalent of building the pyramids.  It was a contest for bragging rights with the USSR, and when it was done it rolled on by inertia for only a few more missions.  But it was also an achievement "for all mankind."  This was a day for every person on Earth to be proud.  How many of those have there been?

It was the dawn of a new age.  And then we paused to catch our breath and lower our sights.  Leave it to government to make the world's greatest adventure boring.

But maybe we are waking up again.  Today, more people are coming to wrap their heads around the fact that we must go and live (and yes, die) out there.  This planet is too small.  Too vulnerable.  We are still in a race, not just of nation versus nation or corporation versus corporation, but as a species against time.  To survive, we have to become a multiplanetary civilization.  And today, forty-nine years ago, was the first step.
nasa apollo 11 earth africa 1969 AS11 36 5352HR
Photo taken from the Moon.  July 20, 1969.

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