They Also Choose To Go To The Moon

As my blog approaches its one week birthday and surpasses 500 views, I noticed the other day that one of the views came from Russia. I thought that this was rather cool, but little did I know that either Mr. Putin or Mr. Medvedev himself must have been reading my blog, and took inspiration from my recent post, “We Choose To Go To The Moon”:

https://semipartisansam.wordpress.com/2012/03/09/we-choose-to-go-to-the-moon/

Clearly my words had quite an impact, as Russia has now decided to resurrect its plans to send humans to the moon:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/space/9141416/Russia-to-finally-send-man-to-the-Moon.html

Writes the correspondent in the Daily Telegraph:

“Mr Putin said piloted space missions should be revived by 2018, when the first flights are expected from Vostochny, a $13.5 billion (£8.6 billion) spaceport being built in Russia’s far east. The Soviet Union, the United States and China are the only countries so far to have launched manned space flights. India’s space agency declared in 2010 that it wanted to launch a human mission to the Moon by 2020, and scientists have indicated that China could do the same by 2025.”

Russia – like India and China, who also aim to land on the moon within the next 10-20 years – clearly has far better things to spend its money on than going to the moon, a modern-day re-enactment of what by that time will be a 60-year-old accomplishment. It is hard to see that it will generate anything close to the same return on investment as did the Apollo program, in terms of scientific knowledge, industrial growth or new inventions.

It should also be noted that the Russians have made similarly grandiose plans before, only to walk away from them.

But at the same time, in this day and age of austerity and retrenchment, it is somehow comforting that someone somewhere in the world – besides Newt Gingrich and his moon base – is still looking up to the stars and making plans to return to space.

We Choose To Go To The Moon

 

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon [interrupted by applause]. We choose to go to the moon in this decade, and do the other things, not because they are easy but because they are hard. Because that goal will serve to organise and measure the best of our energies and skills. Because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others too.” – President John F. Kennedy, Rice University, September 1962

I have recently been re-watching the excellent television mini-series “From the Earth To the Moon”. Executive produced by Tom Hanks and in much the same style as the film “Apollo 13”, it tells the story of the entire Apollo space programme, from its early beginnings and the tragedy of Apollo 1, through the enormous triumphs of Apollo 8 and 11, the lucky escape of Apollo 13 right the way through until the end of the endeavour. If you have not seen it, it is very well worth watching.

I have been a project and programme manager by trade for the past six or so years, and the exploits of NASA and particularly the Apollo programme have always held a particular fascination for me. In past job interviews I have joked that while most people look at the first moon landing and wish they were an astronaut, I was probably the only one who was moved to become a project manager! Of course, I would not have minded being an astronaut at all, and do very much hope to fly in space some day. But I suppose one of the things that has always excited the geeky part of my brain is how human beings can come together and organise such a complex programme to achieve the goal of landing a man on the moon – in the 1960s no less, when the technology and computer processing power in even my humble, malfunctioning BlackBerry vastly outstrips that which was available to NASA at the time. How do people organise themselves to run such a huge project, and plan and track all of the millions of individual actions and steps that must be successfully completed in order to achieve the desired outcome?

I post the above video for a couple of reasons. I am a (very) amateur scholar both of the history of the Apollo space programme and the life of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, and rewatching my television series and flicking back through some of my books about the space programme made me think about more recent human achievements.

I was born in 1982. What great accomplishments of the human race have taken place in my lifetime? I might think of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the defeat of communism, and the spread of liberty and prosperity that is still occuring as a result. I might also think of the cooperation of many nations to construct and inhabit the international space station – though no humans have left low earth orbit since that final Apollo flight, this is still a remarkable technological achievement. Or on a more micro scale I might think of the successful mapping of the human genome, with all of the promise that this holds for curing diseases in the future. There are probably many more that I have overlooked, and I would be interested if any readers would care to suggest some of them in the Comments section.

But all of this brings me back to President Kennedy’s speech on September 12th, 1962. How many people became scientists because of the unmatched human endeavour that followed this speech? How many people became engineers, or mathemeticians, or pilots, or astronauts, and how many people’s lives have been changed because of the new technologies and discoveries that resulted from it?

And in these hard economic times, when so many of the western powers seem to be retrenching and lowering their ambitions, what are we doing now that will inspire people, or challenge them, or make them proud of us in 40 years’ time?

We Choose To Go To The Moon - John F Kennedy - JFK - Apollo Program