This month, the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing, got us thinking. The Apollo 11 mission, that allowed Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to step out of their landing craft and explore the surface of the moon, was one of the pinnacles of human achievement. From engineering to technological advances and the ability to turn blue-sky thinking into reality the moon landing was a breakthrough on so many different levels.
Of all the lessons learnt perhaps the profoundest came from the photographs taken by the astronauts as they exited the lunar module. Those images taken by Armstrong on a modified Hasselblad Data Camera with its Zeiss Biogon 60mm ƒ/5.6 lens were unlike any other before, capturing a truly new perspective on what it means to be a human being, and what it means to be a resident of planet Earth. Guardian art critic Jonathan Jones has called them artistic masterpieces and the greatest photos ever.
Amongst the most striking are the shots taken looking back at the Earthrise from the moon. The contrast between the monochrome of the desolate lunar surface, the impenetrable black of infinite space and the orb of the earth glowing deep blue and swirling with white clouds is mesmerizing. Those photographs help us to understand our planet's special place in our solar system, and perhaps our whole galaxy. They showed in stark visual form that the Earth is unique, a marble in the black vastness of space.
And yet, since the Apollo missions we haven't done much to protect our planet. The moon landing, this technological break-through, marked a beginning of the Anthropocene era, where humans began to change the planet. The significant impact that our species were having on the Earth's climate, biodiversity and ecosystems was beginning to be flagged up by scientists throughout the 60s, but it was drowned out by other issues. Now of course, it is no longer ignorable and is recognised as the biggest challenge facing humanity.
Images taken by Armstrong on a modified Hasselblad Data Camera with its Zeiss Biogon 60mm ƒ/5.6 lens were unlike any other before.
In a recent BBC interview Kali Armstrong recalled how her grandfather had told her the biggest impression on him from the Apollo 11 mission wasn't stepping onto the moon's surface but seeing his home planet. "In 1969, he was looking back at the Earth and seeing it from space as a fragile resource and hoping that people would care for it," she said.
Armstrong's realization of the Earth's fragility is a profound one, the truth of which we are just beginning to realize, as the payback from our actions as a species demonstrates how delicate the balance of the planet is. Faced with the problems of climate change, pollution from plastic and the unsustainable overuse of the Earth's resources it's understandable to feel we are facing an insurmountable series of challenges. But it's worth remembering that putting a human on the moon was felt by many to be impossible. That goal was achieved because it became important politically, to beat the Soviets in a cold war race. The American government spent over 25 billion dollars (over 150 billion dollars in today's money) and employed over 400,000 people on the project. Imagine what could happen if that level of investment was put in by governments all around the world on solving the Climate Crisis.
So let's celebrate the fact that as a human race we can accomplish truly spectacular things and overcome immense technological difficulties. The moon landing is a testament to human ability and perseverance. Apollo 11's biggest lesson is that where there is a will a solution to even to the most challenging issues can be found.
PHOTO CREDIT - Project Apollo Archive
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