They call us the Baby Boomers. We are the post-war birthrate bulge that were promised the best of the best – and then rebelled. We plugged in and chilled out – not disconnected, though. Never that. We demonstrated. A lot. Against nuclear weapons; against the war in Vietnam; for equal rights for women; for a better deal for black Americans. We wanted the Pill and legal abortion, free love and a fairer society.
We believed everything was possible – and why? Because we were on our way. Leaving the planet and going into Space. Starting with the Moon, our generation confidently expected that we would continue the great human march out to the stars. Amidst the worldwide celebration over the moon landings in 1969, I recall my grandfather declaring that I would probably live to see the first human land on Mars. After Obama’s recent announcement scrapping plans to revisit the Moon, I’m not holding my breath – despite Buzz Aldrin’s gritted determination to put a gloss on the President’s decision.
Apart from the sheer oddness of the decision to by-pass the Moon ‘because we visited it 40 years ago’, when we have amassed a whole tranche of fascinating information that could be profitably investigated since then – I do wonder at the notion that we can successfully prepare for a manned mission to Mars, without trying out the equipment in the nearer, less testing conditions of the Moon.
But there is also a far deeper and more important reason why Humanity should continue to strive for the stars. It is in our DNA to quest further – and if we continue to allow political and financial considerations to keep us tethered to an increasingly overcrowded Earth, the long-term effects won’t be pretty. Those of us in First World democracies already speak of ‘economic migrants’ as if these folk were committing a crime in trying to reach somewhere better. When all they’re doing is responding to an age-old instinct that drove our species out of Africa and across the planet millennia ago.
In breaking the promises made back in the days of my youth and shrinking our horizons, we have short-changed our children and their children, whose concerns seem pettier, less ambitious than those of our generation. Do I sound like a grumpy old woman – you bet. But, when I think back to bright promise of space travel… When I think of the expertise built up in both Russia and America, that was dribbled away by timid politicians… I am also broken-hearted that Obama has joined that dreary list.