Sunday, July 19, 2009

Fantasies of the Unconscious – One giant leap for mankind … really?

It’s hard to believe that 40 years have passed.

July 20 1969 -I still remember that day vividly. My father took me by the hand, pointed to the full moon in the darkening evening sky and asked if I could see the man there.

Neil Armstrong had, just hours before, freed mankind from his earthly bonds by setting foot on another celestial body with those immortal words “One small step for man - One giant leap for mankind”.

It seemed only natural for that generation to assume space tourism was in the offing and a permanent moon colony … well that would be just a few years away surely.

And us kids? … we all wanted to be astronauts and yes we were going to live on the moon or on some far flung planet of our choosing (but only if I could take my dog Sasha along). It all seemed like a logical progression, a literal universe of possibilities lay at our feet and there was no stopping us from venturing into the unknown of space.

But sadly temporal concerns - that conflict in Vietnam, the escalating Cold War that kept us in fear of nuclear Armageddon, the Oil Crisis, currency meltdowns, the advent of the Information Age, terrorism and more recently, climate change kept our heads and hearts firmly chained to the ground. That pure hope - that child-like ability to wonder about the heavens, to go to infinity and beyond, seemed to have slipped through our fingers.

That small step that could have, should have, been a giant leap into manned missions to the other planets

Think about it … when was the last time you spent a moment gazing at the lights in the night sky and pondered when … or if … we will ever get there?

Technology has increased a googlefold or so it seems. NASA’s engineers accomplished a moon landing four decades ago with ridiculously basic computers compared to what we have today.

In 40 years, all of just 12 men have set foot on the lunar surface. So much more could have been done to keep the momentum going but plans to colonise “outer space” remained a dream unfulfilled.

Who knows … maybe a Singaporean may have been among the chosen to leave behind footprints on the lunar landscape.

Instead the two space nations at the time - the US and former Soviet Union were content to stick to a low earth orbit with ventures like Skylab, Mir and the International Space Station hovering just some 300km above our heads. Okay, okay … the two rovers on Mars have done us proud but putting machines on the planet and getting people there and back are two very different proposals. And so now, finally, as we turn our attention to a possible manned mission to Mars, the moon has suddenly come back into focus as the only training ground we have for a long duration stay on the red planet.

The last human to kick moondust did so way back in 1972. Conspiracy theorists abound with reasons why the moon lay abandoned for so long. According to one group, we never even got there in the first place - that it was all an elaborate hoax filmed in a movie studio. Read this for more.

But how then did we get our hands on all those lunar rocks? I remember going down years later to the National Museum (I think) and peering at the speck of moon rock on display.

Then comes my favourite conspiracy - aliens were already on the moon and warned us to stay away. Yup Armstrong had the shock of his life when he was observed by creatures peering out from some lunar craters … or so the story goes. Read this for more.

Yeah it is always fun reading tales of shadowy government cover-ups, alien alliances, Men in Black. And you don’t have to look very hard as there are a bunch on the Internet for just about every major event you can think of and them some.

And so today we salute a momentous achievement in human history - not the conquest of the moon - that is still far off - but our first visit to the heavens.

There is a song which I haven’t heard for years. I won’t mention its name nor that of the singer - it probably won’t ring a bell anyway since it was way back into the 70s. But he captured the significance of the moon landing better than I ever could …

River’s getting dirty
The wind in getting bad
War and hate are killing off
The only earth we have
But the whole world stopped to watch it
On that July afternoon
Watched a man named Armstrong
Walk upon the moon

And I wonder if a long time ago
Somewhere in the universe
They watched a man named Adam
Walk upon the earth

So do yourself a favour - spend 30 seconds tonight staring in wonder at the moon and the twinkling stars of the heavens above. Be a kid again, if only for a moment …I know Sasha is up there somewhere … wagging her tail

Happy Moon Day everyone!

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