The Eagle has landed
Today marks the 34th anniversary of the first moon landing. Only a handful of years since President John F. Kennedy made a historic speech in which he committed NASA to the goal of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth, Apollo 11 blasted off, riding the back of a massive Saturn V booster. Werner von Braun and other former Third Reich scientists designed this multi-stage monster to carry a vessel into lunar space. Less than 25 years after those same scientists had been designing and launching V2 missiles for Hitler, less than a decade since Yuri Gagarin had immortalised himself with the first ever voyage of mankind into space. Fewer than 70 years since Orville and Wilbur Wright had sputtered into the air for a few precious seconds at Kittyhawk – that’s less than a human lifetime.
Think on that for a moment; a person who was a child when the newspapers broke the news that humanity had broken the chains that held them to the earth in 1903 may have, as an elderly person, have watched the first man to walk on the moon on television. Another astounding invention we mostly take for granted and one which didn’t figure in most SF visions of the first moon walk. As Arthur C Clarke pointed out, the first lunar landing had been described by countless SF writers as far back as mathematician Johannes Keppler, yet none of them predicted that millions upon millions of humans would watch it happen in their own homes.
I was barely two years old when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. As I grew up, playing in my little astronaut suit, I read books on astronomy, cosmology, SF and I dreamed of the future. It seemed so limitless; we were on the cusp of mass space travel. Everyone would get to try this shiny new future world – holidays in space would be as common as air package holidays already were. The moon would be colonised and we’d be on Mars by the start of the 21st century. And I grew up as the Space Age, the age that had spawned me, faded into paler shades and the new age of the Information Revolution. Recently looking back through some old 2000AD annuals from the 70s I read again articles on hotels in orbit and the sub-orbital, hypersonic planes which would take us there, all designed to follow the fantastic Concorde.
The future was amazing, we could – we would – be able to do almost anything. Now it is the 21st century – the science fiction century I dreamed of – and I’m 35. What happened? No space hotels, no chance of ever flying into space – even the Concorde about to be retired. Disease, starvation, poverty and war – Bush and Blair take note because you’re directly responsible for these horsemen – are still rampant. We were going to use space age technology to feed the world and cure disease, as well as go on holiday to the moon. Those Space Age dreams now look to be as accurate in the predictive area as an episode of the Jetsons. Even what little is left of the space programme hangs by a thread.
It’s the 21st century and it seems like every other one sometimes. I’m 35 and stuck in a depressing job with a crush on a girl who ain‘t interested. I’m starting to worry that I’ll never get to be an astronaut. I’m starting to wonder just how depressing the rest of this tarnished future is going to be. I can only hope that somewhere there is another quantum reality out there where it all went right for the world and for me.