One small step 50 years ago continues to inspire humanity

South China Morning Post 發布於 2019年07月19日16:07 • SCMP Editorial
  • World should celebrate anniversary of Apollo 11 moon landing and legendary walk on lunar surface by Neil Armstrong because it was one of our greatest achievements
Neil Armstrong reflected in the helmet visor of Buzz Aldrin on the surface of the moon. Photo: AP

Apollo 11's moon landing and American astronaut Neil Armstrong's walk on the lunar surface 50 years ago must count as among humankind's greatest achievements. The vision it inspired and the technologies developed are for the ages. Not only Americans but the world should celebrate together on this occasion.

This is also a time for reflection in a fractured world full of conflicts, hate and mistrust. Today, more countries are interested, and have developed the capabilities, to land on the moon, and to go beyond. They are driven by technological advancement as well as nationalistic pride.

The Apollo landing, too, was driven by rivalry, as it came 8 years after a brash young American president, John F. Kennedy, dared his citizens to reach for the moon at the height of the cold war with the Soviet Union. But when Armstrong took his small step on the surface of the moon, most of humanity cheered.

Whatever motives that drive nations to explore space today, the adventures and advances have the power to awe and inspire peoples across borders. We must not underestimate human curiosity about the universe and our place in it as a unifying force. Just this week, India was set to be the fourth country to achieve a controlled landing on the moon, after the United States, Russia and China. However, a technical glitch forced the launch of the Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft to abort at the last minute. Indian scientists are confident that the mission will be back on schedule soon.

Could the Apollo 11 moon landing be duplicated today?

Space missions have always been hazardous. While China's Chang'e 4 succeeded in putting a lander and rover on the far side of the moon for the first time in January, Israel's Beresheet spacecraft failed and crashed on to the moon in April. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made his country's space programme a matter of national pride, and has set 2022 as the deadline for the country's first manned space flight.

Under President Vladimir Putin, Russia has reinvigorated its space programme and, in July, successfully delivered into orbit a cutting-edge space telescope, which aims to conduct an X-ray survey of the known universe by 2025. Moscow wants to send cosmonauts to the moon by 2030.

Meanwhile, in the midst of Brexit, Britain has formed a partnership with Nasa in the US to reach for the moon. Interestingly, US President Donald Trump has also announced a crash programme to land astronauts on the moon in 2024, more than half a century after his countryman Armstrong achieved the feat. Such activities are driven by competition and one-upmanship as much as technology. But given the vast resources devoted to them, scientific cooperation may lend them even a greater bang for the buck. The last frontier of space should be explored by humanity, not just rival nations.

Copyright (c) 2019. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.