July 20th, 1969 – Apollo 11 lands on the moon. While Michael Collins is circling this new and strange landscape, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin step out unto the lunar surface. The world watches in awe. We have done it. We have landed on the moon. The two men spend over 21 hours on the surface of the moon – not even a full day. But those 21 hours represented all of our hopes and dreams, were a testament to our collective human spirit and dedication, and captured the imagination, pride, and amazement of the entire world. While these three men looked back towards the Earth, the Earth was looking back at them. We went back five more times, and even brought our own kick-ass lunar dune buggy along so we could zoom around the surface in interplanetary style.
Apollo 17 – our last mission – was in 1972. We have never been back. Why? It has been 45 years since the first time we landed on the moon, 42 years since the last. We have sent plenty of satellites up. Hubble, the telescope which has given us jaw-dropping photos of the universe such as the one above, was launched in 1990. Hubble provides images that spur the imagination, give us glimpses into other worlds and universes beyond our comprehension, and serve as a humble reminder that the little blue speck we call home is just one part of a vastly larger picture – one whose scale is larger than we have even begun to fathom. We literally have a universe of options out there awaiting discovery, and we haven’t even been back to the moon.
Technology isn’t an issue. Hell, we went to the moon and back six times with technology that we would laugh at today. We are carrying more technology around in our pocket these days – using it for texts, emails, Twitter, Facebook, and phone conversations – than the amazing minds within the Apollo program had even thought about yet. If the prehistoric technology we had back then was enough to get us to the moon and back, then image what we could do if we implemented the technology of today!
Personally, I have believed for years that we need to privatize space exploration and cut the international bindings that have prevented us from doing any genuine research/discovery for the past several decades. And economically, doing so would be just about the smartest thing we could do. New technology being researched and developed, new businesses being centered around this technology, entire areas of science being focused on and implemented in new and exciting ways. We would be inspiring future generations to look beyond the horizon, trailblazing new paths that have never been attempted. Truly going where no man has gone before.
In 1519 Ferdinand Magellan set sail with five ships from Seville, Spain along with a crew of 270 other like-minded explorers from various other countries – Portugal, Spain, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Greece, England and France. The goal was to find a direct route to the Indies for international trade. In essence, it was an international “what if” mission. This simple idea of “what if” would become the first circumnavigation of the entire world. Sadly, Magellan never lived to see the final outcome of this and neither did a large amount of the crew. But, they had set sail on a journey of discovery and brought back with them knowledge that would later be used to make even more revelations about the world in which we live.
1492 – Columbus sails the ocean blue. Originally, Columbus was planning to reach the coast of Japan and expand the trade route/relations due to the land route becoming a more dangerous prospect because Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Empire. Once again, the idea was a simple “what if”. Not wanting to sail around Africa in order to reach their trade destination, Christopher Columbus asked “what if we sail West?”. He blazed a trail, set forth on a journey of discovery, and wound up bringing forth new knowledge that greatly changed the course of history. Although the America’s weren’t exactly new, and Columbus never actually saw anything more than the Caribbean Islands and the Northern part of what is now known as South America – he did inspire others to follow this trail and embark on new possibilities.
1804 – The United States has completed the Louisiana Purchase a year prior and Thomas Jefferson decides that they need to fully explore this new land and ensure that British forces do not attempt to create a foothold. Enter Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and what would later become known as the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Having nothing more to go on other than the simple orders to head West, a total of 11 men took it upon themselves to explore the land around them, discover answers, and bring back new knowledge. They succeeded, and inspired additional people to blaze their own trail into the West.
Why have we not attacked the prospect of space exploration in the same manner as this? We went to the moon and back – six times – but have never used that as a stepping stone for further exploration and greater knowledge. Instead, we have opted to view the universe through the eyes of a giant lens. We send shuttles to drop of satellites for cell phones and television, but cannot be bothered to step outside of our current cosmic borders? What if?
In 1977, the United States launched Voyager 2 into space and as of today, it has been in motion for 36 years, 11 months, and 1 day. This can certainly be considered a step, but again, it has been a step that is now 36 years old. We still receive communication from the satellite, and it has brought us some – stellar – images from Jupiter, Uranus, Saturn, Neptune. Broadening our horizons, showing us our closest planetary neighbors – and carrying with it our hope that we may come in contact with other intelligent life in the form of a large, gold-plated disc that was specifically created as a means of communication. That, to me, has always been the most fascinating of prospects. Extra-terrestrial life.
Once thought of as completely in the realm of science fiction, the prospect of extra-terrestrial life has become more and more acceptable as a viable consideration. There was a relatively big story that happened a few years back where NASA stated that Mars was emitting methane. Methane is a by-product of not only geological processes, but biological as well. I very much believe that there are interplanetary races that we have no knowledge of, and the idea that we could one day establish communication with them is amazing to even consider. There are those who say this is impossible – but then again, there were those who once said that the Sun revolved around the Earth. UFO sightings have happened all around the world, and by many very credible sources. The usual response when scientific leaders are asked about the likeliness of being visited by other-worldly intelligence is, in essence, “it is impossible because WE cannot figure out how”. And, in the words of Arthur C. Clark –
“Any significantly advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
When looking at the vast expanse of space, it’s millions of galaxies, its unfathomable number of stars and planets that each one of these galaxies may house – I believe it is extremely narcissistic of us as humans to believe that WE are the only ones out here; and just because we haven’t figured out how to do it does not automatically mean that it cannot be done. The idea that somehow we are the only intelligent life in, quite literally, a nearly unlimited amount possibilities is a very narrow view of a very wide universe of which we have VERY limited knowledge of. Additionally, if for some reason that it IS true, and we are the only ones out here in the universe, then that too should inspire us to get out there and discover as many things about it as we can!
We need to rediscover our willingness to balk at the seemingly impossible. History has always been made by those who heard everyone else say they couldn’t – and then responded with “watch this.” Internationally, we need to open space exploration to the public sector. Invest in the possibilities, rather than the status quo. Let the ideas fly, and unleash the spirit of discovery. There will most certainly be mistakes. There will definitely be tragedies. The Apollo program went through many, many challenges before it was finally successful. But we did it.
The impossible, became possible – and we walked on the moon. Why have we stopped there?