Another year, another July 20, another anniversary to be sacrificed on the altar of Boomer Nostalgia. This time, it’s the first moon landing.
One small step for man. One giant leap for mankind.
And now what?
We put up with a great deal from the baby boomers, including a constant barrage of anniversaries and commemorations, from JFK’s assassination to the Beatles landing. Tread anywhere on the calendar and you will awaken a Date of Significance to the boomers and it will go rampaging onto your TV screen for hours and hours, devouring all but the worst possible news. Some of them were maybe 5 when the first moon landing happened and hardly even remember it, but that has never stopped them. They love a good commemoration. Meanwhile, all we millennials ever get to do is write lugubrious personal essays about where we were on Sept. 11, 2001. It seems like we have gotten the short end of the stick again.
But it’s odd to feel nostalgic for manned space travel. Audiocassettes and vinyl records and leg warmers, sure. Things of the past! But space travel? That was supposed to be a thing of the future.
And it’s not even that we feel nostalgic for visits to the moon. We don’t remember them at all.
It seems unfair that the closest thing we recollect to a Big Space Event was when our shuttles touched down for the last time and the voyagers returned. “Gravity” was good, but it wasn’t quite the same.
As an ardent procrastinator, I know how it can be — you say you will be on the moon again in five years, on Mars in 10, and then two more decades pass and instead you have just dawdled around in low-earth orbit singing “Space Oddity.” I get it. But it’s been 45 years since the first moon landing. It is time we did something.
I understand that manned space travel is costly, unwieldy and inefficient if what you care about is Hard Science. But putting hard science aside for a moment (as our budgets have been saying each year for a while now), can we really allow the placing of the last human foot on the moon to be something the boomers remember (get primed for that 45th anniversary of the Apollo 17 landing in 2017!) and we don’t? As a generation, they are entirely too smug already.
On a more serious note, I understand all the considerations keeping us down on terra firma. It is a tremendous understatement to say that we have trouble enough down here. The past weeks have certainly reminded us of that.
But if we wait until we’ve solved our problems down here, we’ll never look up again. There are always problems. And the grimmer moments make me wish we had a reason to gaze skyward, together. Now, the sky still sits in the background, the Super Moon looming in pictures over wreckage of buildings and bodies just as it shines over more peaceable back yards. And on the surface of that moon still sit the same undisturbed footprints as before.
This can devolve pretty quickly into an overwrought voice-over about Common Purpose as a Species and the Gift of Wonder, or about how we spend all our time looking down into our screens and, yes, that can make us feel closer as a species, and help us see deeper into ourselves, but if we turned the same powerful lens of human curiosity outward rather than inward, who knows what we might glimpse?
But leaving that aside, there are immense and tangible benefits to making investments in scientific curiosity, in data-gathering (why should the National Security Agency have all the fun?), in better equipment to answer the most exciting questions, in pushing the circle of light and knowledge out just a fraction of an inch further, even if it means no new footprints as yet.
It wouldn’t hurt to have some anniversaries of our own to celebrate, either.