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One giant leap

July 21, 2019

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HUMANS first alighted on the moon’s surface 50 years ago today — a culmination of human ingenuity and fortitude the likes of which had never before been witnessed. Besides the three astronauts aboard Apollo 11 who set sail to the moon, there were the leaders, policymakers and hundreds of thousands of scientists, engineers and technicians who strove for decades to realise this goal. The Cold War motivations driving the space race are well known, yet its historical context cannot diminish the event’s symbolism as a collective human achievement of monumental proportions. The moon landing, even today, is a beacon by which we mortals measure both, our ceaseless, unrelenting capacity to explore and discover the mysteries of the universe, and our ability to be awed and humbled in the presence of overwhelming scientific evidence underscoring our miniscule, transient place in this vast expanse. The impact of the Apollo 11 mission’s success continues to reverberate. From the Cassini and Juno space probes to Saturn and Jupiter, to the rovers on Mars, from the discovery of the Higgs boson, to the capturing of the first image of a black hole just months ago — none would have been possible had a failure of imagination been allowed to thwart these bold pursuits.

It is also a sobering reminder for a country such as Pakistan, in which admission to the school of hard knocks is seen as a rite of passage rather than a tragic consequence of a state that fails to invest in its human potential — particularly in STEM education and research. Recall the young man who, in April, was fined for flying in a small aeroplane he built himself. Mohammed Fayyaz had to quit school after matriculation to support his family by working menial jobs. Imagine the heights people like him could reach in a country that values creativity and innovation, and treats the curious mind as its most precious asset. To say ‘the sky is the limit’ would be an understatement.

Published in Dawn, July 21st, 2019