Make Space not War – Why Apollo 11 Matters 40 Years On
[ NASA have restored the moon landing video. Slightly odd in a way, because part of the appeal of the live transmissions was their distinctive poor quality compared to the film flown back later. They were really far away and the crackle and hiss created an electrifying sense of excitement. ]
Update: One of the bizarre things about the Internet is that despite its promise of real time media, refreshing a text based web site is a lot less interesting than watching TV when it comes to breaking news. I was looking for something online which captured the excitement of the moon landings in real time, and not a Twitter feed. SMS is less dramatic than what we had 40 years ago. It turns out that Jason Kottke has created a fantastic site which is showing the moon landings as they happened 40 years later to the second. a simple a powerful idea: watch it here.
Why does it matter that we went to the moon?
Did we really ‘come in peace’ by sending people on a purposeless voyage riding incredibly expensive, Nazi designed, bomb rockets, in an inter-empire pissing contest, while millions starved?
Human beings are hard wired to murder each other. We are tribal, hairless apes whose aggressive tendencies, when transferred from the sticks and stones of the ancient African savannah to modern industrialized nations, threaten the atomic slaughter of millions with a single phone call. And despite our species-wide back slapping about human capacity for caring, we are selective about who we care for. Just as we feed dogs dozens of other mammals during their lifetime, but would go to jail if we fed a dog to one of them, our capacity for empathy is selective and over-rated. Many of the people that suffer daily in poor regions have been treated worse a pet dog; they are like the food we give to our pets, something we don’t think about because they are physically distant.
Sending people to the moon helps quell the most egregious effects of our instincts. It is the most notable thing hairless apes have done since shedding hair because it places our notion of drive and purpose outside of the planet, and therefore allows anyone on the planet to share equally. It symbolizes our ability to channel aggression to conquer space rather than each other and a creates a tangible purpose that is independent of terrestrial geography.
If space missions allow people to behave as one looking out, from some perspectives, they are all that we have done looking in from outside. An alien staring at our planet for the last 4 billion years from the remote vacuum of space might see nothing more than the silent blip blip as a handful of people left earth and went to the nearest ball of rock and back, more than a generation ago. And 40 years later – nothing.
That blip blip, created all of the challenge of war, all of the excitement of weapons and all of the triumph of victory – without the killing, something that resonates on a personal, sentimental level.
When I was 3, my grandfather met Neil Armstrong and gave me his autograph. It started a lifelong obsession with space technology which gave me the same instinctive visceral kick as toy gun. I now have an 18 month old son and I’ll be able to give him something other than toy soldiers to play with and something more to aim for than those blips.
What could possibly be more important?