45 years ago today, Neil Armstrong stepped out of the lunar module Eagle and into forever.
It cost approximately $355,000,000 to make that happen, and that was just for Apollo 11. In today’s dollars, that would be approximately $5,850,000,000. That’s 5.85 billion with the “B.” And again, that’s just for Apollo 11. You have to figure in the total cost of all previous Apollo missions, the Gemini missions, the Mercury missions, all the satellite, dog, monkey missions, all the way back to the formation of NASA. Put simply, that’s not cheap.
Was it worth it? Absolutely. Should we do more of it? Unquestionably.
I admit to a certain pro-space bias. I grew up close to where Gus Grissom grew up. Star Trek was on my TV screen from a very young age. I suspect I am not alone here – we’ve all seen the majesty of the “Earthrise” picture and felt the power of the image of the Pale Blue Dot. And everyone knows how much I loved both versions of “Cosmos.” We need to go back to the Moon, and then we need to go beyond. We have a Rover on Mars right now – why not go walk alongside it for a spell?
Back to Apollo 11. We went to the Moon with less computing power than what is in a late-model Honda Accord. Think of how far beyond that we are today. Just, for a moment, consider the possibilities. We have the technology. Why not the will? We lost the will somewhere, and we all suffer for it. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich is wrong on just about every single topic, but he is absolutely correct when he says we need to go back into space.
Had we kept up with the pace of transformative change and discovery maintained during the Apollo era, I propose that we would have colonists on the Moon right now and be looking at Mars colonies within the next decade, if not already. What wonders would we have in our everyday lives with that kind of technological, scientific, and humanistic brainpower pumping away?
For that matter, why not the will for further scientific exploration here at home? Why not the will for investigations of the human spirit in art, music, literature, history? What are we afraid of? Why do we fear knowledge and learning so much?
Every last one of you reading this comes from a species that has always looked somewhere – up, over, down, inward – and wondered “Why?” We need that wonder back.
We need it in our science. We can tackle the problems of climate change today. We can find new, renewable, clean sources of energy today. We can stop the pillaging of places like Alberta and Appalachia for coal, oil, and gas today. We can cure disease and end famine today.
We need it in our education. We can educate people to think critically today. We can uncover new ways of looking at our culture today. We can create powerful new works of art, music, theatre, literature today.
We need it in our diplomacy. We can put a stop to the petty striving that tears nations, cities, and families apart today.
We can do all this, and we can do all this today – if we have the will.