Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Happy Moon Day!

41 years ago today, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first human beings to set foot on another world. They are two of only 12 men to have ever walked on the surface of the Moon.

The Moon landing is arguably the crowning achievement of life on Earth. Other events may have been more influential for humanity -- domestication of plants and animals, the invention of writing, the advent of modern medicine, or the harnessing of electricity come to mind -- but the journey of men to another world represents a new era for life on Earth: the first time in our history when we Earthlings are able to leave our delicate cradle and discover our place in the vast unknown universe. Forever after, ours will be a space-faring civilization, and if we survive long enough, it seems likely that we will move on to other worlds, perhaps terraforming neighboring planets, establishing permanent colonies beyond the Earth and one day, we hope, venturing to the stars.

For billions of years, life was restricted to the surface of the Earth. A few winged creatures could climb a bit higher, but nothing could push beyond the thin atmosphere that protects us from the cold vacuum of space. Most of our ancestors lived and died without more than a dim notion of anything beyond our planet. But finally, after billions of years of evolution, a curious and determined species emerged, and set about the business of conquering nature's barriers.

After thousands of human generations we, the lucky children of the 20th century, are the first pioneers in space. We see a little farther only because we stand on the shoulders of giants, but for this reason, we owe it to our ancestors and descendants alike to push deeper into the unknown. Nothing less than the survival of humanity may be at stake. But if nothing else, it seems to be our destiny to explore, and to join the community of civilizations that may be humming and zipping about the galaxy. These are just the first few steps of the marathon, but what a marvelous achievement to have gotten this far.

Happy Moon Day.

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