You are go, now dance the skies
The PBS documentary “Apollo’s daring mission” explains how the Apollo 8 mission was changed because the US and NASA feared that the USSR would beat them on a mission to the moon. So they changed the mission objective of Apollo 8 with the aim to fly to the moon, do 10 orbits and return to earth. What the documentary rightly makes clear is that this was in fact the first time ever in human history that humans left the earth. In the documentary, Michael Collins (who would later become the moon orbiting crew-member of Apollo 11) lamants the mundane mission milestone names that NASA created. In this case, the significant maneuver to go to the moon had been called TLI (which stands for Trans Lunar Injection) and his regret was that instead of confirming TLI he would have rather cited the beginning of a poem by a 2nd world war fighter pilot John Gillespie Magee- which starts like this:
You might think what’s the big deal - well until you see the regret and the emotions in Michael Collins, you would not know. Here is a former Astronaut, over 50 years later and now at the age of 88, still regretting and pondering and wishing that he could have done better. That’s the human spirit that got us to the moon in the first place.
As I’m writing this on the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, I’m lamenting too. I’m lamenting about all the promise that the future of space exploration would bring us, I’m lamenting how space exploration would have been a defining moment in our time that would transcend it all, politics, hate, power. We solve this and we will have no more reason to fight over resources. Take the anniversary itself: 50 years since Apollo 11 - how is it possible that we simply stopped going to the Moon (or Mars) and instead spent these resources on useless wars. We are on a trajectory to self-destruct Spaceship earth, thus space has to become our new home. But besides the very real need, there is the human spirit - we are programmed to explore, we are explorers, why did we stop exploring beyond the moon?
My favorite poem is not really a poem, it’s an excerpt from the book “The Dream of Space flight” by Wyn Wachorst: “The need to see the larger reality of life - from the mountaintop, the moon, or the Archimedean points of science - is the basic imperative of consciousness, the specialty of our species. - that is who we are!
But there is also hope. There is hope that Space X can in fact fulfill its founders dream and put people on Mars. There’s hope that Blue Origin will find a path back to the moon. And there are many others. There’s wonder and hope in all these new endeavors, my hope is that by the time the 60th anniversary of Apollo 11 comes around, we will have rockets in space beyond the earth orbit - just like Apollo 8.