I wasn't born when mankind first stepped on the moon and I was only a few years old when the Apollo programme was abandoned. So you might expect me to share the same blase attitude which most people have about it - been there, done that, got the moon boots.
But I don't. It remains one of humanity's most stupendous achievements - but more importantly, one which reminds us of what is possible if we set ourselves far-sighted goals and will the means of achieving them, as John F Kennedy so famously did with the moon landings.
My reason for looking at this issue is that I've just been to Eden Court Theatre in Inverness to see In The Shadow Of The Moon. This film is a must for anyone with any interest whatsoever in space travel. In it, the surviving Apollo astronauts (with the notable exception of Neil Armstrong) discuss their experiences of what it was like to be part of the Apollo programme and land on the moon.
We've all seen and heard Armstong saying "One small step, one giant leap" many times, but for me those words can still send a small shiver of excitement down my spine. That is especially true when you realise just what a culmination of effort, enterprise and scientific discovery it represented, as the film makes clear.
But the question it raises is whether we are still capable of such great endeavours. Are politicians today capable of promoting such visionary enterprises, in the way that Kennedy did with his "We choose to go to the moon" rhetoric? Even if they do have such vision, can they back up such plans with the rather large budgets required to realise them, especially when so many people question the benefits of space exploration (although there is quite a large list of scientific discoveries and developments which are attributed to the Apollo programme). In addition, there are quite a few terrestrial problems which seem to be of equal or greater importance, such as the problems relating to global climate change.
My answer is that space travel and exploration must continue to be a vital part of human development and discovery. Yes, it needs to be done in tandem with other challenges (eg climate change) rather than at their expense. Yes, there will be significant costs. But it is something which needs to be done in the spirit of exploration and enterprise which has driven humanity forward over the centuries.
That is why I hope that human beings will soon return to the surface of the moon and that is why I hope within my lifetime to see the first humans landing on Mars.
The Second Referendum, or, Obliquity
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