I’m off on my jolly holidays (yippeeeeee!), so this week my
blog is hosting some guest posts – enjoy!
Today’s guest blogger is Dan.
As he doesn’t have a blog himself, Dan was quite nervous about writing this guest post, but I really enjoyed reading it! I believe, as well as being a subject close to his heart, it is also one most people have some curiosity about.
As I Looked Up At The Heavens
In recent weeks one of the greatest names of the 20th century died.
Hold that sentence.
Think about it.
I hope that over 75% of people guessed it!
It was Neil Armstrong.
The first man to physically step foot on a celestial body other than the Earth. For humankind this was the culmination of man’s journey through history: from the dawn of civilisation, the first time man looked up and saw our celestial partner, to the moment John F Kennedy announced that “it is [our] aim to put the first man on the Moon by the end of the decade” and to that pinnacle of achievement when Armstrong set foot on the moon.
From that moment space exploration commanded headline news. It enforced the dominance of the USA both economically and technologically. But history looks, with razor sharp precision, on the facts and the “small world”. For me, and I wasn’t born when Armstrong took his momentous step, this seminal moment of the 20thcentury has far wider ramifications for mankind as a civilisation.
Carl Sagan, the popular cosmologist before we had Brian Cox, wrote that “Recently, we have waded a little out to sea, enough to dampen our toes or, at most, wet our ankles. The water seems inviting. The ocean calls.” For me this is profound. We have taken the first steps into space and whilst we’re nowhere near exploring the vastness of the cosmos. The science and technology needed to do this just aren’t developed enough, yet. But we are making strides in trying to overcome these hurdles. We can find other worlds orbiting their own suns, we understand the building blocks of the universe and have found the God particle. We have seen farther into the universe, and back in time, and seen the light emitted from the first stars that were generated when our universe was created over 13 billion years ago.
But in these times of global austerity NASA’s funding represents 0.5% of the federal budget this year at $18 billion dollars. US military spending totals just over $1 trillion dollars. Does anyone else find this to be just wrong? As a species mankind generally spends more money on defending itself and attacking others than it does on schooling its children, feeding itself and, in wider terms, bettering itself for the good of its own combined aspirations. I could go all “Star Trek” here and talk about Gene Roddenberry’s utopian view of humanity unconstrained by politics and finances but instead I’ll a quote that point humanity in the right direction: “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known”. (Carl Sagan, again)
Whilst mankind fights itself over religion and over ideals its easy to oversee the fact that we’re the only species on the planet capable of wiping itself out. Whilst we fight amongst ourselves for the reward of natural resources we forget that to truly better ourselves we have to look to science and realise that it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.
Humankind has the capability to do great things. We can explore our own backyard (our solar system), our own neighbourhood (our corner of the galaxy) in space and one day we may push beyond the relative safety of our own part of the galaxy and push on towards other galaxies. Only then, when we have cut the constraints that prevent mankind from progressing technologically and economically, might we realise that we are not alone in the galaxy.
It was with these thoughts that I sat, down in the dumps, on Saturday night in my back garden looking up at the stars. I hadn’t covered 3/4s of the sky and I lost count at around 1100 stars. I saw satellites traversing the sky. I saw 4 “shooting stars”. I saw the International Space Station. I was only looking for an hour. Without my telescope. I felt like Neil Armstrong for a moment.
As Neil Armstong, later in life, said: ”It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, very small”. As I looked up into the heaven’s I suddenly felt grounded, and very small. I understood my place in the universe. And I smiled.
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