Forty-eight years ago, two astronauts took the most expensive selfies ever shot – on the Moon. Those now-famous pictures of two Americans posing with their flag on the lunar surface were the key deliverables of a program started by President John F. Kennedy only eight years before to prove the American democracy was superior to Soviet communism.
Thus, when some see Apollo as a dead end, I do not.
Those hundreds of thousands of people who bent their will and their minds to place a man on the Moon “before this decade is out” did exactly what they had set out to do. They should be celebrated. Their success is a triumph of what can be done when a goal is clear, plans set and people organized around its achievement without hesitation or wavering. In fact, the term “moon shot” has come to mean an “all-in” drive to do the previously impossible.
One was from Apollo 8 of Earth floating alone in space. For the first time in history, humanity looked at itself from afar and saw that for all of our petty differences and disregard for the gifts we have been given, we are all trapped within a tiny bubble of life floating in darkness. Today the image is everywhere, a part of our culture, but back then no one had ever seen such a thing, and it was shocking, planting the seeds of a paradigm shift in the form of our growing concern for our environment, and our ever more global perspective in all things.
The third shot is of a human footprint in the lunar sand. Meant to record our first contact with another world it now symbolizes both humanities’ greatest triumph and one of the biggest failures in human history. A failure not of the missions or the program, but that once we reached the Moon our leaders wrongly concluded it was enough that we had won the “Space Race,” and we walked away.
Each of these Apollo mission photos gave proof to far larger truths that we would be wise to recognize today.
First, we can do anything.
The human race, only 10,000 years removed from wandering the steppes of Africa with sticks in our hands has extended our reach into the domain of stars. We have dreamed and become our dream and now know that if we see a thing in our minds, can speak a thing with power and then join together to do that thing there is nothing we cannot do.
Second, we are alone together.
Humanity in all our tribes, are but one small part of a rare world of life. The Earth on which we dwell is a unique and precious gift in a cosmos so vast and so dangerous to life that we must not only hold tight to each other but also must protect and cherish her and all the living things with us on this voyage through the night. There are no borders when seen from space, and from far enough away no line between what we call civilization and nature. We are one.
Third, we cannot leave the future behind, like a tourist leaves Disneyland, or a mountaineer climbs down from a now-scaled peak.
While the governments who planted the flags and footprints and technology out there turned away, some of us were watching, and it changed us. Now it is time to change what happens next. Many of us are working to save the Earth and get us back out there to the new worlds of space. For this to happen we need the same clarity, focus and determination it took to get out there the first time.
This time the win should be determined not by flags and footprints, but by the development of a new economy that expands the home of humanity into space. The tax dollars we spend on space must be invested in technologies and activities that enable people to live and work beyond the Earth permanently, not just to for government employees to visit. We need policies that create certainty for people who want to risk their own lives and fortunes to open the frontier. And we need to encourage partnerships between the public and private sector and those others around this planet who want to join us in this quest.
Those three iconic images burned into the minds in every generation since Apollo were the spark that created a revolution in thinking.
From student-organized global environmental projects to billionaire-funded rocket ships, from working to save lives on Earth to planning new lives on new worlds in space, many are building on the legacy of Apollo – both its technology and its inspiration. All of us embrace human unity and responsibility for this tiny bubble, and are now taking on the task of turning those few and incredible footprints on the Moon into a highway to the stars.