Editorial: In 1969, the possibilities seemed endless

If you were a school kid in 1969, you could not have escaped the excitement. Chances are you were huddled around a small (they were all small back then) TV screen waiting for what seemed like an eternity until Neil Armstrong stepped from the lunar module onto the surface of the moon.

As the astronaut made his famous one small step, one giant leap, we all watched in stunned amazement. And we dreamed of what seemed like endless possibility laid out before us. 

If we could set foot on the moon, surely we could also explore Mars and the other planets of the solar system. Science was in the ascendancy; superstition was in retreat. 

Our appetite for the moon landing had been whetted in the preceding years. In boxes of breakfast cereal were little clip-together models of the Saturn V rocket, the command and lunar modules. We pestered parents for models, books anything that made us feel part of this great leap forward for humanity.

We swelled with pride because tracking stations in Australia played a pivotal role in not just this mission but all their entire space program.   

We were blissfully unaware the computing power that got the astronauts to the moon and back was probably less than today’s average desktop computer. At the time, it all seemed so 21st century.

Looking at it now, from the 17th year of that new millennium and it seems in many ways humanity has lost its way. We’ve had religion reassert itself in the most bloodthirsty, destructive manner. Fear and prejudice appear to be in the ascendancy and science is on the back foot.

Despite the very best evidence we are imperilling our planet with emissions, world leaders (one in particular) have consistently ignored the science. There are signs this is changing but that might be too late. 

The progress we made towards bringing down the barriers that separated us is now being challenged by inward-looking isolationism.

We have plenty of gadgets that keep us connected – the idea of a smartphone in 1969 would have been science fiction – but we are in reality more disconnected than ever. Social media is one of the most antisocial aspects of modern life.

It would be nice if we could lift our gaze once more to the heavens, to feel as one as we reached out again to the solar system. 

It would be even better if possibility and common purpose replaced fear.