If you hadn’t already noticed, today is exactly forty years
since man first walked on the moon.
In many ways, the moon landings represent the high point of
human enterprise – our initiative, our energy, our courage, our thirst for
knowledge, our technology, and, possibly most important of all, our ability to
organise took us from primitive civilisation to space travel in less than 6,000
It is in the nature of high points that decline must follow,
so it is hardly surprising that the decades since then have seen nothing as
Yet the amazing strengths that took our species to the moon
are still to be found, even if they are far from common, and they continue to
achieve marvellous things. Most of those achievements are low key – everything
is low key relative to attaining another world – but they include the
establishment of millions and millions of enterprises, all of which depend on
the same qualities, if not always to the same degree, that put Armstrong
and Aldrin on
So perhaps we lesser pioneers of the human race should
remember some points from the Apollo Programme.
1 Set definite objectives, with a timescale,
and stick to them. President Kennedy’s 1961 proposal that America should
put a man on the moon by the end of the decade is the model of a clear Mission
2 Expect setbacks. NASA faced disaster
after disaster, above all the fire
that killed three astronauts and nearly killed the Apollo Programme. They
3 Courage is rewarded. A computer warning suggested
that Neil Armstrong should abort the landing at the last moment. He did not –
as a result, everyone remembers Armstrong, no one remembers the computer.
4 Trust enterprise. Although NASA is a
government organisation, most of its technology was developed by innovative
private sector contractors.
5 “Blue Skies” research is a good investment.
Technologies developed for the space programme influence almost every aspect of
engineering and computer science today. Research which might seem theoretical
at the time can yield huge returns later when its practical applications are
6 You will never convince everyone. Even
today, there are people who say that they believe that the moon landings never
happened – in the same way, even if you really do offer the best product in the
world, there will always be some who refuse to believe you. It may be
irritating, but you just have to accept it.
Neil Armstrong: “Just
remember that all the mechanical parts in the Saturn V were made by the