Neil Armstrong died today.
I was born about 6 months too late to actually be around for the Apollo moon landing. My mother watched it on TV while she was pregnant with me. But the moon landing–and Neil Armstrong’s famous words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”–had a powerful, profound effect on me growing up. I would look up at the night sky, look up at the moon and stars and planets, and dream of going out into space. The shuttle missions of the ’80s, even with the horrible Challenger explosion, made the human race’s expansion out into space seem inevitable.
And then NASA’s budget got reduced and reduced as the US focused more on conflict and war and less on science and exploration. It seems now like we’ll never come back from that, even after all of the fanfare of the Curiosity landing on Mars. There are “terrorists” to fight and “Axis of Evil” countries to protect ourselves from, and our politicians seem ever more directed away from peaceful science and towards big business and the military.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. We have to ask ourselves, “What kind of world do we want to live in?” There will always be bullies and people spoiling for a fight, but that doesn’t mean we have to continually build up our military forces and escalate conflicts. From subatomic particles to the outer boundaries of our galaxy and beyond, there’s a whole universe of mysteries to explore. Who do you want to vote into office, the politician who’s looking for war or the politician interested in peace and discovery? What kind of world do you want to work towards, a world of violence and war or a world of experimentation and exploration?
Me? I want to live in a world where children look up at the night sky and dream of going out into the unknown. I want to live in a world where we build and explore and experiment, not fight and destroy. It’s a world I’m willing to work towards. I don’t think it will be easy, but I absolutely think it will be worth it.
Rest in peace, Neil Armstrong. You actually went out into the dark and touched down on another world. And you’ve inspired me–and so many others–to try to do the same.