In 1903, the Wright Brothers made the first sustained manned flight. The Soviet Union launched the first artificial Earth satellite (Sputnik) by 1957. Four years later, Yuri Gagarin was the first man to journey into outer space. In 1968, on Christmas Eve, we saw our planet like never before thanks to the “Earthrise” photograph taken by astronaut William Anders. And half a year later, we went to the moon. What about after that? What did we do in the meanwhile?
Let’s take a step back and analyse why we went to Space in the first place. When the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the world was in the middle of the Cold War. Four years later, they reaffirm their supremacy by sending a man to space, Yuri Gagarin. United States were trembling by then. They were losing the space race and that constituted a public humiliation. That’s why President Kennedy announced one year later he chose to go to the moon.
NASA was funded and they successfully set foot on the Moon in 1969. What an incredible feat that was! Humans left Earth for the first time! And they happened to be American, which meant the US won the race for space. For the first time we saw Earth not as an agglomeration of countries, but as a whole planet, a planet without borders. That left us feeling we could accomplish everything. Next step was Mars and Wernher von Braun, the father of rocket science, said we would be there by 1981. But he was wrong: he forgot we only went to the Moon in the first place because the US wanted to win the race for space.
Things went downhill from there. NASA’s budget plummeted like never before. People weren’t interested in Space anymore and we were losing our hope and giving up on our dreams. Mars was now as close to us as it was in the 19th century. Tax-payers were complaining their money was unnecessarily going into NASA, when in reality it could be spent in social causes. What we forgot was that Space was an investment, not a place to bury money.
But what did Space give us? Well, we can start by the water filters, memory foam used in mattresses, scratch resistant lenses, insulin pumps, ear thermometers, shoe insoles, CT scans, cochlear implants, cordless tools and, believe it or not, invisible braces. Seems kind of random, doesn’t it? That’s exactly what investing in Space gives you: an incredible array of new discoveries you would never relate to rocket science. Space exploration is and it will always be a crucial area for Humankind. It is by seeing the planet as a whole that we can acknowledge how vital it is for all of us to go in the same direction and thrive as a species, instead of fighting with each other so that we can become the “‘momentary’ masters of a ‘fraction’ of a dot“. Perhaps the greatest thing we can learn from exploring Space is discovering ourselves.
P.S.: the title of this article (and the article itself) was inspired by this video.