IN HIS ETERNAL drive for enlarging his frontiers of knowledge and environment, man has made many dramatic advances in the past but they all pale into secondary importance before the epic feat of Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin who landed on the moon last night and after a successful visit are now heading back for home. The whole world applauds their achievement which is also the achievement of American science and technology. Neil Armstrong described his first short step on the moon’s surface as a giant leap for mankind and President Nixon has pointed out that the heavens have now become a part of man’s world. It will take some time for millions of earth-dwellers to realise the full significance of the fact that human beings like themselves have actually set foot on the moon, that familiar heavenly body which has been celebrated in poetry and legend for thousands of years as a symbol of inaccesible beauty. In fact, the physical environment of the moon is a cruel and hostile one for living beings, since there is no air or water there and no gradations of light and shade. Some have questioned the value of sending men to risk their lives to land on so hostile a shore. But the scientists assure us that the exploration of the moon will unfold many of the secrets of the universe and that a moon landing may also prove to be the first milestone on the road to the remote world of the stars.
In any case, the conquest of space (for the moon is 238,000 miles distant from the earth) has called for an effort of technique that has stretched scientific capacity to the utmost. The Apollo Project started by President Kennedy eight years ago has called for the labour of some half a million American scientists and engineers in 120 universities and laboratories as well as the manufacturing capacities of 20,000 industrial firms. The present head of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Mr Paine, believes that the cost of space flights will fall in the future and that research stations and observatories can be set up on the moon without heavy expenditure. In characteristic American fashion he holds out the prospect of cheap space travel for everyone in the coming decades.
The Hindu’s front page on July 21, 1969
The tremendous effort put out by the United States in the last eight years to make a touch-down on the moon was, of course, provoked by the successful Russian launchings of Sputniks and the pioneering orbital flight of Yuri Gagarin. There were a number of failures of American rockets before the technique was finally mastered. Now the Americans have landed men on the moon, while the Soviet Union has not been able to do more than circle the moon with an unmanned satellite. It is rather unfortunate that Moscow has proved unwilling to inform Washington about the purpose of its latest lunar mission (Luna 15) so as to remove any misapprehension about the purpose of that flight. Yet the element of competition between the two leading industrial powers was no doubt essential to the moon project, as was the rivalry between Spain and Portugal in the days when both were trying to circumnavigate the globe.
While the rest of mankind will applaud the message on the plaque that has been left on the moon which reads, “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon, July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind,” the fact remains that the rivalry of nations is still the strongest spur to daring expeditions of the kind that has been accomplished. There are eight planets and some thirty moons in the solar system that are yet unexplored by man and the race will probably continue. The advantage of the American triumph has been the global transmission of information about every stage of the flight to millions of television-viewers and radio listeners. There has been no break in communication, both of voice and vision, between the earth and the men on the moon. The world has shared the experience of the astronauts and rejoiced in their epic achievement.