Saturday, July 20, 2019
There is a lot of new information to report about Pluto, especially from a conference titled “Pluto System After New Horizons” held last week at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHUAPL) in Laurel, Maryland, part of which I attended.
But because this blog is not just about Pluto but also about the solar system and planetary science, today I feel compelled to write a post honoring the 50th anniversary of the July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 Moon landing, an accomplishment that can legitimately be considered the most important event in the history of the world and the pinnacle of human achievement.
In June, I received an invitation from Steven Silver to write an article about the personal and cultural impact of the first Moon landing, to be published in a special edition of the Hugo Award-winning fanzine Journey Planet edited by Silver along with James Bacon and Christopher J. Garcia, to be published today.
Because I personally cannot remember anything about the momentous accomplishment that occurred 50 years ago today, I was unsure of what to write and ended up missing the deadline.
The only memory I have of crewed Moon missions is a very vague recollection of the launch of Apollo 17 in December 1972.
Observing the national and even global online celebrations of this event have helped me realize one does not have to actually have been present to recognize the enormity of this day and milestone because this event is bigger than any individual or even country.
And it was followed by a series of exploration projects, both crewed and un-crewed, that transformed the planets of our solar system from remote concepts to real, physical locations we could see and study.
Too often, especially in the news today, we read about and see the worst of humanity—greed, hate, cruelty, corruption, and denial in the face of impending climate disaster. Apollo 11 and subsequent space exploration, much of which required international cooperation, show us the opposite—how much humans can accomplish for good when we come together and work toward a goal.
Anne Frank, who would have been 40 in 1969 and 90 today, famously wrote in her diary, “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness; I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too; I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again.”
A plaque left by the Apollo astronauts on the Moon, on the site known as Tranquility Base, famously reads, “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon July 1969, A.D. We came in peace for all mankind.”
The stuff of dreams, the first Moon landing and all subsequent space exploration shine as beacons of hope, not just for the United States, but for all humanity. They confirm that we, all humanity, can come together for good, and that when we do, we can accomplish great things.
I believe that ending the Moon missions, especially when Apollos 18, 19, and 20 were completed for launch, was a mistake. This is likely due to the fact that our Moon missions were motivated more by the desire to win the space race against the former Soviet Union than by the quest for knowledge and exploration. Ultimately, our voyages to the final frontier must be motivated by the compulsion to explore, not by war. When we return humans to the Moon, it needs to be to stay rather than for one moment of victory.
Anne Frank did not live to see it, but the peace and tranquility she saw when looking upward did not just return but reigned supreme on that momentous day in human history 50 years ago. We can best honor Apollo 11 by coming together as one people on one planet, and using our ingenuity, bring emissions and climate change under control and forge a new era of exploration that will ultimately take us to the solar system and the stars.