We choose to go to the moon

I was just a month old when Eugene Cernan and Harrison Jack Schmitt left the Moon behind for the last time and since they left, no one has been back. I wasn’t even alive the last time the V-15 flew, in 1968. It still holds the record for the high speed achieved by a manned aircraft.

Technology has entered our lives a lot since then; well, in parts of the world. We carry little boxes around that allow us to talk to people anywhere in the world (at some financial cost but the technology is trivial), which take photos, which make television, which allow us to play games, which allow us to read newspapers. We fly around the world almost trivially, and we drive all most trivially. Our trains are faster than ever before, well some of them.

But none of these are big visionary changes except maybe the trains. No one stood up and said We Will Do this.

When people think about John F Kennedy speeches, I suspect that the one which comes to most people’s mind is Ich bin ein Berliner.

I don’t. I think of We choose to go to the moon. There’s a line in it which I think resonates greatly and illustrates the difference between a generation which went to the moon, and a generation which has not.

Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation may never come again. But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?

We choose to go to the moon. 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 organize 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 which we intend to win, and the others, too.

Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? (okay, a bit more than 35 now) Now, flying the Atlantic is trivial. But space travel remains, pretty much, non-trivial. Challenging. Massively expensive. Oh we’re talking about space tourism but…even now, you don’t rock up to a spaceport and say here’s a lot of money, I want to go to space…

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.

For me, this is the key piece. We accept challenges. We seek them out. Or at least, we used to.

Now, then, our brightest and our best don’t seem to be working on challenges like going to the moon. NASA is aiming for Mars in the 2030s. I know I’m getting old, and I know time is flying, but that seems like AGES away. It’s a far cry from the attitude in 1961 of We’ll get to the moon before the decade is down. Possibly it’s because he’s dead, but I can’t think of a politician since Kennedy who pulled inspiring stuff like this. And God knows the man himself was far from perfect.

Certainly, none of the ones in Ireland seem to operate beyond a vision of the next election. It’s a limited horizon to say the least

Well, space is there, and we’re going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God’s blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked.

Where is the adventure of our generation?

What is the defining achievement of our era?

I’m not suggesting that Ireland puts money into a space program seeing as we hardly have money to put into education and health at the moment. But our priorities don’t seem set – and this is a world wide issue – on a grand future any more.