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Fifty years ago today, two humans piloted a rickety rocketship, with walls as thin as toilet paper, and a computer dumber than a calculator, to the surface of another world.
We did it five more times. And then we stopped. Nobody's been back for fifty years. Fifty years.
Why? Was it too expensive? Too dangerous? Too pointless?
No, none of the above. We humans, basically apes slung underneath brains that had been growing like a runaway chain reaction for four million years, got to the edge of infinity and went: "Holy shit."
We got scared. Remember when you were a kid, and one of your peers was plainly too scared to do something on the playground? You'd make that "Bock bock" chicken noise?
Today, on the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, I make this noise to you, humanity. Bock, bock. You are too scared to explore the cosmos. Because you are not man, you are ape. You have a supercharged cerebellum at the service of an underdeveloped cortex. You are chickenshit.
Too expensive? Please. We spend more on take-out pizza on this planet, every year, than we would on outfitting a Martian colony. More people have died playing at autoerotic asphyxiation than have died slipping the surly bonds of earth. Pointless? You want pointless? How many car crash deaths meant anything? Food poisoning? Hell, even most war deaths aren't really worth it.
No, we stopped going to the moon because we were afraid of leaving the cradle. Period.
Tsialkovsky, the Russian space pioneer once said; "Earth is the cradle of civilization. But one cannot live in the cradle forever." My six-year-old daughter is, in many respects, a very advanced human. But, every so often, she asks me if I can locate her old cradle. Because she really misses sleeping in it.
She wants to be a baby again. And so do we.
We argue this reality away, of course. We ask, "What about all the problems here on earth?" As if there is some magical "No problems here, let's go" point that will allow us to hit "Proceed."
Some of us go even further. Some of us try to pretend it didn't even happen, that it was all a big hoax, so we don't have to confront the central reality of our limited species. That we achieved greatness, and, on the edge of that development Sir Arthur C Clarke so deftly hinted at in 2001, to the status of semi-deity, we faltered.
We have come from being mice. And to there, we shall return.
Please, look at the history of human evolution if you doubt me. As our brains grew, so did our presence on this planet. Almost as soon as we could walk upright, carry fire, and use tools, we hit the road. Within 50,000 years, traveling on foot, or at best on leaky reed boats, we made it from the Rift Valley to Patagonia. We never stopped moving.
We, our whole story, is a goddamned road trip, don't you get it? Our next stop is the Moon, then Mars, then Alpha Centauri. It has to be.
We can move, or we can die. We were never meant to be Koalas, content with eating one plant and living in one place, for all time.
Not for nothing did Michael Collins, Apollo 11's Command Module Pilot call his memoir, Carrying the Fire. Their journey carried the fire we have always carried, from Africa to Australia, to the Sea of Tranquility.
So, what's it going to be, apes? Fifty years closer to extinction, an almost-ran curiosity? Or are we really going to go for it this time?
It's who we are. Either scared apes or a people on the edge of godliness. What's it going to be?