Nothing great was ever done without much enduring.
St. Catherine of Siena
I'm standing by.
Anyone who often reads Vagabond Journeys knows that I am a champion of the common man, a believer in the value, beauty and genius of the ordinary, everyday, average human being. I do not underestimate the remarkable achievements by remarkable people. But I am willing to recognize that my friends and neighbors are capable of remarkable things if the situation demands.
Yesterday I watched the celebration of the anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. The three astronauts involved all spoke. I noticed that none of them were very good public speakers. There were no orators in the group. But then I thought Why should there be? They are scientists, engineers, technicians and pilots. Oratory is not their game.
When Neil Armstrong came forward to speak he received a standing ovation from the audience. Again I wondered why he did and not the other two. Was it because he had done something remarkable that the others didn't do, or was it simply that he was the first person to do it. His name will go down in history as a great explorer. And yet when he spoke he showed himself to be an ordinary guy, like me.
Frequently the astronauts speak of the many thousands of people involved in the space flight history, of the thousands of nameless workers, ordinary folks like me, whose contributions made it possible for someone to walk on the moon.
Something else is talked of also, and that is the spirit of the Apollo program which inspired people to do their best, to dream, solve problems, design and build equipment and to make sure all the procedures were correctly carried out.
In his talk Armstrong uttered an amazing and troubling fact. He revealed that it was a mere 66 years between the Wright Brothers first flight at Kitty Hawk to the Apollo 11 landing on the moon. That's a amazing time line. Only 66 years. But it has been 40 years since the moon landing. What has happened since? The Apollo astronauts are old men now but they say they expected the program to continue to the moon and beyond.
I guess the International Space Station is a grand accomplishment, but, as someone pointed out, it's basically a political one. It doesn't have as much to do with space exploration as the Hubble Telescope. Why have 40 years gone by without further exploration? What happened to the spirit of Apollo? And what was that spirit in the first place.
Watching the Apollo 11 astronauts speak I wondered what it was that motivated those men to stuff themselves into a minute flying machine to go on a long journey they might not survive. The answer came listening to them and to others speak on the subject. There were two qualities that all explorers have had since humans first went where no one else had been: curiosity and willingness to risk one's life.
It is clear that taking off in a spaceship is risky business no matter what, but is risking one's life to install a battery in the space station the same as risking one's life to step on the moon? I don't think so.
Another quality the astronauts have is endurance, sticking to the job until it's done. In the case of the Apollo flights, it meant living in extremely cramped quarters for many days. A trip to Mars would mean living that way for months. How many people have the composure to do that? I don't think I do. I don't even like being on a bus for more than an hour. How long did it take Columbus and crew to travel on small, wooden bottomed boats to get here? We know what year he did it but I don't know how long it took. Do you?
(There are still some blank headed people who believe, like the Holocaust deniers, that the moon walks never happened, that it's all a hoax, . Sure, and Columbus never set foot on a new land either. His ship fell off the edge of the earth and we are not really here.)
Curiosity. Courage. Endurance. Those are the keys to our future. And we should get on with it.
DB - Vagabond Journeys
Pardon my polemics, please.