Being one of life’s natural cowards, I’ve always had great admiration for people of exceptional courage, and there’s a special place reserved for Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin and Michael Collins. Yes, plenty of men, and one woman, went before them into space, and the crew of Apollo 11 benefitted from their experience (Including the tragic deaths of Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee in the Apollo 1 fire in 1967, and whose mission patch was left on the surface of the moon in 1969.) but as a symbol of what greatness humanity can achieve, you’d be hard pressed to find a better symbol. Yet the showiness of the Apollo landing sometimes detracts from extraordinary human achievements that aren’t lauded the same way. Consider the 8th May, 1980. What happened then? The World Health Organisation announced, after a massive vaccination and containment programme across the planet, that smallpox had been effectively eradicated. This was a disease which at one stage killed 400,000 Europeans every year.
What is our generation going to do as its contribution to human greatness? Would it really be that hard, for example, for the United States and the European Union to commit to the goal of providing every person on Earth with clean drinking water by 2029?
Having said that, the Apollo programme was an extraordinary achievement, so as the anniversary of the moon landing comes upon us, don’t forget to raise a glass in the honour of those thousands of astronauts and scientists and engineers and ordinary working joes who showed just how magnificent we can, as a people, be.