“…but that’s not what a ship is for.”

Not long ago, someone congratulated me on the achievement of taking a photograph of the Moon, with the International Space Station transiting across it and the euphoria that I ‘must’ have known would accompany it. Completely and utterly lost for a response, realising that my words had truly escaped me, I thanked them, but felt hugely awkward immediately afterwards. As I retraced the maze of synchronicity and chance over the many, many years that had caused me to develop a passion for all things Space and that ultimately led to the creation of this photograph, I realised that the perception of namely the Apollo program had changed out of all recognition, and I spent the rest of the evening wondering why.

moon-shot

It appeared to me that the most remarkable thing about the Apollo program, let alone the Gemini and Mercury programs that preceded it, was how the farout story and the people involved had been forgotten, and that the disturbing rise of conspiracy theorists had stemmed from the fact that these Moonwalkers had become living ghosts to a future that ultimately didn’t happen. All of which may help explain my delight and surprise to this stranger’s kind words of congratulations, to their expression of awe towards the Moon within the photo itself (which would have been unthinkable outside of a room that was filled with fellow Space enthusiasts). And yet, when I think of the 40+ years that have come to pass since we first ventured to the Moon, and how we haven’t continue to ‘venture’, I can’t help feeling that:

“A ship is safe in the harbour, but that’s not what a ship is for.”

This sums up my feelings on the current lack of human based space exploration.

Where the Apollo program has been called the greatest technological achievement in human history. We’ve since stopped ‘reaching’ for the stars, we’ve stopped pushing back our boundaries and staking out new frontiers. And whilst watching the BBC’s gameshow ‘Pointless’ recently; where teams are tasked with finding the most obscure answers to general knowledge questions based on pre-conducted public surveys of 100 people from the UK, where a correct answer which none of the 100 people in the survey gave is deemed a “pointless” answer. A picture of Neil Armstrong acoompanied with the question “Who is this?“, scored 12.

Where did we lose this wonder of space? This wonder of adventure? Nobody can say that space exploration doesn’t offer a magic that touches the soul. Seeing our planet from a different different perspective can only emphasize and encourage our sense of wonder surely? Words written by the late Capt. Edgar D. Mitchell, Ph.D (1930-2016), the very same Edgar Mitchell who flew to the Moon as the Lunar Module Pilot on Apollo 14 along with Command Module pilot Stuart Roosa (1933-1994) and Commander Alan Shepard (1923-1998), becoming the sixth person to leave his footprints on the Moon, I feel are not those of a man raised within the strict conventions of a life in the military but closer to ‘civilianesque’ appreciation if you will:

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Image credit: NASA

“You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty.”

I can completely understand that reading this may leave a bitter aftertaste in your mouth, as it does me, and you may even be filled with the sudden inclination to drop to your knees, slam your fists into the sand on some beach to the North of Santa Monica Bay shouting: DAMN YOU! GOD DAMN YOU ALL TO HELL!!!!” (think Planet of the Apes, of which I’m not personally a fan of the franchise but the analogy seems to work). But wait, before you do, I don’t want to be pessimistic here, in fact, far from it. The future is indeed bright!

The International Space Station (ISS) flies over our planet; that beautifully bright, non-sparkly object that people think is in fact a plane, gradually passing at 17,150mph West to East across our sky, horizon to horizon, I feel counters the words of Robin Hanson, the chief scientist of the prediction market research firm Consensus Point: “Take a minute to look up at the dark night sky, see the vast, ancient and unbroken deadlands, and be very afraid”.

nasa-iss

Image credit: NASA

So crane your neck skyward, look up from your back garden, take an evening stroll, lay on your back on a field of green and with a smile on your face, track the ISS as it soundlessly gatecrashes constellations, and you may feel an inclination to wave at the astronauts inside when on a clear night you can even see the light twinkling back at you as it reflects off the solar panels.

Only then, you may feel as I do that the future of space exploration is equally as bright.

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Image credit: @virtualastro

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