We spent a few days in Florida recently, and a visit to the Kennedy Space Center was one of the highlights. It was truly inspirational to be reminded of what human kind, and the United State in particular, is capable of once our mind is set to a purpose. Something like 400,000 scientists and engineers worked on the Apollo project over the course of the 1960s, many starting their career as a result of the investment that the US made in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,000,000 separate systems had to work together pretty much flawlessly for the moon landings to be successful.
The entire visit was quite awe-inspiring. Here are a few of the incredibly powerful moments:
One, was the IMAX description of the design and construction of the International Space Station and seeing how the astronauts live on a daily basis. Wow!!!! The 45 minute film is in 3D, an entertainment technology that, by the way, seems poised on the edge of a powerful resurgence. Untethered by gravity has a very dream like quality as people and things float around everywhere in a surrealistic landscape that would have made Salvidore Dali's mouth water. Furthermore, knowing that the space station was initally the result of collaboration between the former Soviet Union and the United States and that now something like 69 different countries have been involved in the project is, again, an indication of the positive consequences of holding common cause.
Second, hearing John Kennedy proclaim "We choose to go to the moon!" was a thrilling. (This video clip's dramatic music is really unnecessary; Kennedy's energy alone is sufficient.) His declaration that it is the hard things that are really worth doing is a powerful reminder of what it takes to achieve something really great, and one that is sorely needed in such a graceless age as ours is too often. Furthermore, John Kennedy may have been a man with real flaws--as many very powerful people are--but the man could really speak when he had something to say.
Third, at one point during the tour of the Apollo command center where some of the twelve astronauts (only twelve!) who actually walked on the moon remark on their experience. One, perhaps Alan Shepard, spoke of crying upon looking back at the glorious beauty of the Earth, seeing its fragility from a far perspective, seeing it whole, and lamenting the pettiness and hostility that jeopardizes the well-being, the future of our species on this wonderful speck on life in the vastness of the universe. Talk about a call to action for the sustenance of life in our complex organizational systems that do so much to determine what our fate on this planet will be!
We did feel that there was a bit more of an emphasis on humanity's "destiny!" to explore space than we feel. It is probably true that humanity is innately adventurous and thrills at exploration. We want to know what's "out there," and, increasingly, many of us want to know what's going on inside of us as well. But, it may be that realizing the real potential of this planet, e.g., simply addressing poverty, would be a sufficiently gripping process of discovery for many of us. We've gone to the Moon, and we will probably go beyond it, but we still face a daunting set of challenges right here on Earth.