The last couple of days have been abuzz with the announcement of Neil Armstrong’s death. The obituaries and remembrances of Apollo 11’s iconic mission have flooded the media. That glorious mission that landed three men on the moon on July 20th 1969, which was thought impossible by many, was a fantastic success.
The achievement of the crew was relayed via television and its footage held the whole world spellbound. Back on Earth, they were treated like heroes, and the possibilities of what humankind can achieve triggered off the imaginations of generations to come.
However one of the things that is often overlooked is that the moon landings also put a sharp focus on Earth. All of space exploration has led to more knowledge about the cosmos but also the innate frailty of our planet. According to The Economist:
Perhaps the most unexpected consequence of the moon flights was a transformation of attitudes towards Earth itself. Space was indeed beautiful, but it was beauty of a severe, geometrical sort. Planets and stars swept through the cosmos in obedience to Isaac Newton’s mathematical clockwork, a spectacle more likely to inspire awe than love. Earth was a magnificent contrast, a jewel hung in utter darkness, an exuberant riot of chaos and life in a haunting, abyssal emptiness. The sight had a profound effect on the astronauts, and photos of the whole Earth, which had never been seen before, nourished the nascent green movement.
Even before this, the Apollo 8 mission produced the first picture of the Earth from the space. This iconic photo of the earth rising from above the lunar landscape has since been named Earthrise and is one of the most iconic photos. In Life’s 100 Photographs that Changed the World, wilderness photographer Galen Rowell called it “the most influential environmental photograph ever taken.”
Up until then, the Earth didn’t have an image of delicacy. However, seeing the Earth as a lonely planet in the vast darkness of the universe triggered something in those men and women who have ventured past her safe boundaries. This sentiment has been translated with great efficacy to the many millions on the ground. Just as Carl Sagan evoked the beauty and fragility of the Earth, so too has every extra terrestrial exploration. It collectively has pounded home the fact that, in all our wonderings and wanderings, there is only one planet that supports life as we know it.
Every business, every war, every political regime, every idea, every thought, has all found its home here on Earth. Just as Man’s ingenuity managed to send a team to the moon so many decades so, so too will it be able to conquer the socio-economic quagmire we now face.