To the Moon - and Beyond

Posted on Monday, November 28, 2022
by AMAC, Robert B. Charles
Buzz Aldrin salutes the first American flag erected on the Moon, July 21, 1969.

Americans are going back to the moon – and soon, then beyond. Some doubt our staying power, but smart money sees human permanence on Mars. When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon 53 years ago, many recall Armstrong’s words – “One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” Aldrin’s first were “magnificent desolation.” What both saw was – the future.

Today, more than during Cold War days, we have options. We have better computers, avionics, robotics, nanotechnology, ways to jettison, personalized medicine. We could do anything and nothing, go out to the moon in person or let some R2-D2 cousin send back a digital postcard.

We have a soft culture, too – one that thinks virtual is real, digital is all we need, we can explore anything from the couch, then tweet what we felt imagining we did something we did not. The risk of softness and digital fantasy is that we lose reality, and the reward of risks taken.

Reality is undervalued. We need to up-value it again. We are not just overdue to explore the universe for survival of the species and science, but for curiosity, thrill of flight and sight, moon dust under boots, getting beyond where we are, the unknown and our theological roots.

We are overdue to understand that life is not in that mobile phone, flat screen television, or dreaming we might have done what we dared not, because it was too hard for our flabby modern “comfort zone.” What did JFK say? “We do these things…because they are hard.”

That is who Americans have always been, and humans – think Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus, Leaf Erickson, Ernest Shackleton, Henry Hudson, the Pilgrims, pioneers, those who make us stop and wonder – how they did what in their day seemed impossible.

We are a species that, in the words of Buzz Aldrin, must “reach outward.” Race, riches, and Earthbound differences are irrelevant – when you look at them from the moon. We lose that understanding, perspective on ourselves, if we do not go the distance, physically and psychologically, then pause to look back at where we have come from, gotten to.

Why is space tourism, another event Aldrin predicted decades ago, happening now? Because there is something transcendent about taking that risk to look back on Earth, reward in reaching up, outward, understanding that we live but once – get returns only on what we risk.

Why did Edmund Hilary attempt – and crest – Mount Everest? Why did divers go down to the Titanic? Why do we press the frontiers of science every day, in medicine, communication, transportation, defense, the unknown? Because it is destiny, in our DNA – defines us.

So, we are again headed for the moon. This time with more focus, less hoopla, but an eye on permanence, not sheer thrill but to persist over time, begin the process of island-hopping into the universe. Studies have been done on travel, survival, and permanence – now we do it.

And this is the real bit, thing people are not thinking hard enough on. America is the vanguard, culture that defended – at the front end – everything from human rights to space travel, individual liberties to equality, that pushes against “no, you cannot” with “yes, we will.”

We did that as humanity’s first nation built on ideals, not on origin; we redefined normal and still do. We twice saved Europe from self-immolation. We flew the Atlantic in a light plane.

And we went to the moon – with human daring, confidence of a sort that inspires, computers capable of one one-millionth (literally) an iPhone’s capacity. How did we do that? With conviction, unshakable conviction – that achievement was worth risk.

Do you know what, too? Partisanship, domestic politics, all the modern distractions were laid aside, meant nothing to Americans that could rival that singular effort, that overarching goal, belief in ourselves, and idea that those who dare win the day.

So here we are – heading back to the moon – only distracted, divided, tired and retired, not attracted to the risk, not recalling that ONLY those who dare to fail – will ultimately succeed. 

We seem to have forgotten that the moon is a destination and waystation, stopping off point to Mars, itself a waystation to Beyond. This is what the future looks like, what our culture and the species need to persist, the appetite for exploration, discovery, daring the Unknown.

As we prepare to see men and women heading for the moon, something deep inside us all should thrill again to this mission, what it means now, but more to “long from now.” If we can be excited about preserving Earth, we must be equally excited for what lies beyond.

As this year closes, and we begin years of resumed human space exploration, take a moment to celebrate what we forget – that inner draw to explore, what got us here, and what lies ahead.

Humans are a daring lot, curious and intrepid. Americans have been that in spades. Some will yawn at the courage, risk, and reward from such missions – to the moon and Beyond. But not the smart money, not those in touch with who we are. They know the future calls, and we are there.

May we move from that “giant leap” and “magnificent desolation” to bigger leaps, and without hesitation. It is part of our destiny, humans’ and America’s – always has been.

So, get up off the couch tonight, go outside, and look up. Leave the remote behind. Look with me to that orb from where Neil and Buzz looked back. Dream for a moment – about where risk leads, what the universe holds for the bold, and see – as they once did – The Future. Then smile. It is coming.