In 1962, the US president John F. Kennedy launched Nasa’s Apollo-11 moon-landing mission and addressed students at Rice University in the following historical words, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organise and measure the best of our energies and skills.”
Seven years later, the world witnessed Neil Armstrong becoming the first human being to place his foot on the surface of moon. The sophisticated technology required to land humans on moon and safely returning them to home laid foundation for numerous other advanced technologies in the world, in the form of satellite communication, rocket science, electronics, material engineering and many more.
From ancient times until the start of 20th century, when we started realising out potential to think and explore, and develop tools to conquer the world, skies were a bit of a mystery to us. We looked at the stars, the sun, and the moon with utmost curiosity. Unbeknownst to the reality of these heavenly bodies, people in those days started to worship them. Others looked at them with amusement and created folklore of unimaginable beauty.
The moon seemed particularly amazing due to its grandeur and breath-taking charm in the night sky. Poets wrote dazzling poetry in appreciation of the moon, philosophers searched for romance and painters painted their masterpieces.
For instance, master Dutch painter, Vincent van Gogh painted one of the most famous paintings of all time, in 1889 — ‘The Starry Night’. The painting depicts stars, planets and moon as viewed from his village.
In a nutshell, the moon remained our centre of attention well before the invention of modern equipment and advancement in technology. It continues to dazzle us.
In recent decades, we have started to improve our observational skills through telescopes and observatories. Consequently, some of the mysteries of our universe and our solar neighbourhood have begun to unfold. We have found that the universe is bigger than our wildest imagination. It consists of billions of galaxies and trillions of stars in an unimaginably huge expanse of space. Our sun is merely one of countless stars and our planet is — in Carl Sagan’s words — a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
Sizes of these stars can sometimes be millions of times greater than our sun, and their distances from our solar system can only be calculated in terms of Light Years — the distance travelled by light in one year.
The moon is comparatively a very small heavenly body, but it is the largest object in the night sky only because it is nearest to our Earth. Many countries successfully landed probes and missions on the moon, but they are still struggling to find inexpensive ways to create permanent human colonies.
An exciting decade (2020s) is here: Nasa is planning to send more manned missions to initiate a long-term interplanetary space mission. China will send a lunar probe for collecting materials from the moon’s surface to bring them back to Earth for further research. Similarly, the European Space Agency is scheming for a permanent human colony on the moon.
These ventures will help explore water, mineral resources, surface and core of the moon, and ways to produce oxygen for breathing. If human beings can successfully build a colony on moon, it will become a gateway to explore other planets and other star systems.
When Neil Armstrong set his foot on the moon’s surface in 1969, he said, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
If man can take the next step and colonise the moon for human settlements, it will the next giant leap for mankind. It will open new avenues for space exploration. In decades and centuries to come, intergalactic and interstellar space travel will no more be stuff of science-fiction movies and fairy-tales.
Published in Dawn, Young World, August 21st, 2021