Great Strides

Yesterday marked the 43rd anniversary of the first human step upon another world. I remember it vividly. It’s hard to convey now the extent to which much of the world was caught up in the Apollo program at the time. (And it would be hard to go back to that time and make people believe how little has been accomplished in manned space exploration since.)

Though the Apollo program was conceived as an American propaganda machine, the vision gradually became reshaped in the public consciousness, so that Apollo 11’s historic firsts were celebrated as a unique and inspiring human accomplishment.

Some years back I made up this image in an attempt to express the breadth of that accomplishment. The left side is a picture of the earliest known hominid footprint, from Laetoli in Tanzania. (At least, it was the oldest known at the time I made the image. It may have been superseded since.) It’s 3.7 million years old.

On the right, of course, is Neil Armstrong’s iconic footprint on the moon from July 1969 — a footprint that’s still there, and that might still be there 3.7 million years from now.

Taken together, they represent a stride that encompasses all of human development. (I know it can be argued that the Laetoli footprint is from a line that died out, but we’re talking symbols here, okay?)

These days it’s pretty easy to look at news headlines and despair. For all of our ability, we can be a pretty wretched species sometimes. But I like to look at this image and realize what we can accomplish when we put our (so far) unique minds to it, and take pride in our achievements while being grateful for our unbelievable luck. (One example of our great good fortune, out of thousands: We’ve had time to evolve and develop a civilization between major catastrophic collision events. Better luck is if we have time for that civilization to get to a point where it can get us off the planet, avert such a catastrophe, or both. Assuming, of course, that it doesn’t get too smart for its own good and wipe itself out in any number of ingenious ways.)

Great strides.