The Legacy of the Moon Landing
Harry Caton, Senior Online Editor, compares the legacy of Apollo 11 to the controversial proposed projects of today.
In 1969, man touched down on the moon. More precisely, an American man did. The tension between these two things – of humanity and nation – has coloured so much of that legacy across its fifty years.
The project that would see humanity’s most profound step beyond our earthly bonds was fundamentally of its time – when nations regularly flexed their geopolitical muscle in displays of techno-military prowess. The moon landing has always been a subject of both strident optimism in scientific humanity, and nationalist obsession. It’s an American flag on no-man’s soil, after all.
We live in a different world today than in the Sixties, but it’s hard not to notice that tension in the years ever since. Just look to the major steps in space travel following the Apollo 11: where 1976’s Viking Lander on Mars was a symbol of America succeeding where the Soviets had failed, 1998’s completion of the International Space Station saw an apparent objective to show how cross-disciplinary space travel could also cross borders themselves. However, as large, private companies such as SpaceX and Orbital Sciences have made valuable steps cheapening and expanding the remit of space exploration, both claim a large amount of their profits from defence technology contracting.
“If space is the final frontier, then that frontier seems to be one of war.”
What have these 20th century tensions got to do with today? You have to wonder if we ever took the right lessons from landing on the moon. Donald Trump’s call for a “Space Force” is the most bizarre permutation of its legacy, meshing it with absurd and blatant militarism. If space is the final frontier, then that frontier seems to be one of war. As government funding has waned – each year following the end of the cold war has seen NASA’s budget decrease – public enthusiasm has diminished. What is the legacy of Apollo 11 if its human scientific achievement is relevant only when framed in military ends?
When we talk about the future of space travel, let’s try to raise the profile of the projects that do more than just promise military might. Deep-space imaging projects, such as ESA’s LISA, will allow us to know more about space-time itself, looking far beyond the pale blue dot of humanity. Likewise, renewable energy, a research necessity in space, has applications back on earth – a Chinese project to transport solar energy back to Earth by 2050 is one answer to proliferating energy crises.
Moreover, space travel has become a project of collaboration, springing up multiple groups beyond NASA. Collaboration between Europe and China for the 2007-2011 MARS-500 mission provided vital data in the recording of space travel’s human elements. Likewise, consistent efforts by the US to ban American scientists from working with Chinese counterparts have received huge pushback from whole global scientific communities.
In an increasingly complex world, the grand projects of yesteryear seem further away than ever. There’s worth, however, in reflecting on these achievements. Let’s look to the good humanity as a whole can do – not as military powers in a state of war, but as peoples that can always do more.