Small Steps and Giant Leaps

If I could go back in time and witness any event of the 20th Century, I think the moon landing would be top of the list. Maybe it’s my inner geek, but the whole idea of looking up and seeing the moon, that big ball of rock that’s been Earth’s companion for billions of years, and knowing that human beings have actually been up there, knowing that technical ingenuity is capable of getting people over 300,000km from home and back again, with less computer processing power than most household gizmos (probably including my microwave)… It’s kinda awe-inspiring.

Today’s the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing, and you can’t move for tripping over a retrospective. I’m glad we’re seeing this – it’s hard to escape the impression that we’ve all got cynical about the subject (it was too expensive, it’s boring, it was all filmed in a desert in Arizona, whatever); now at least we’re celebrating it as an achievement. Thing is, where do we go from here? The last moon landing took place in 1972 and we’ve never been back; the Shuttle’s the space equivalant of taking the bus down to the shops, and while we all love the application of space technology such as communications satellites, is there really a public hunger for this sort of thing? I’m not convinced, and that’s why, although the next step would seem to be Mars or one of its moons, I’m not holding my breath that I’ll ever see human footprints in red martian dust. NASA are committed to returning to the moon by 2018, but…

But I want to see us go back into space. I know what people are saying – it costs too much, there are problems to be solved here on Earth. Well, yeah, but we haven’t gone beyond our galactic back garden for 37 years and you know what? Those problems still need fixing. If Brown or Obama or someone came out and gave the environmental or anti-poverty equivalant of JFK’s speech at Rice Stadium, and really meant it, I’d be ecstatic. I’m not seeing it though. Maybe we live in a more cynical age, maybe we’re all jaundiced by political short-termism and careerism, I dunno.

I’m still idealistic though. I want to know why it’s always staged as a choice between space exploration (and its resulting science) and, say, eradicating AIDS. Why is it never a choice between space exploration and dropping bombs on people? Why is it never a choice between space exploration and the money we have to throw at dealing with the greed of bankers and dodgy MP expense claims and every other instance of corruption you can think of? Why can’t we do something good at the expense of something bad?

I’m not sure my generation has had it’s moment to gather around – maybe Live Aid – and there’s another generation below me that’s in the same boat. Much as I think the Internet is hugely significant, in 40 years time I really hope I’m not sitting in front of a TV documentary celebrating Facebook. What’s our big moment going to be? I’d love it if it was putting a man or woman on Mars, but you know, I’d also love it if we cured cancer or wiped out Third World debt or pioneered a clean energy source that no-one’s even thought of yet. There’s got to be something more that can unite us beyond death and Simon Cowell.

Neil, Buzz, Michael – Thank you. I just want to know who’ll be following in your small steps and giant leaps.


In other space news, the new Doctor’s costume has been revealed – it’s not the rumoured hoodie-and-skinny-jeans, which I’m happy about, and which perhaps signals a change in the relationship between the production team and fandom; and They Might Be Giants have updated their song Why Does The Sun Shine? (The Sun is a Mass of Incandescent Gas) to better reflect the latest scientific thinking – actually, the Sun is a miasma of incandescent plasma


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