By the Light of the Moon

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We can all agree that we want progress.  The question is which way to progress?  In an increasingly complex climate of colliding cultures, defining progress is far too much like defining which way is up while floating in outer space.  The big difference being that the latter is entirely relative and the former only seems that way to a limited mind.

However, one of the most impelling, human attributes is that this limited human mind has always been out done by the limitless human imagination.  It’s an imagination that draws us into an unknown universe that we know our limited minds will never fully comprehend.  Even at risk of our lives and treasure.

We embrace it even though it sometimes goes against our natural survival instincts.  In fact, we embrace it more because it does just that.  It’s part of what makes humans different from other animals.  This human spirit takes us forward in ways hard to explain.

And despite all of our disagreements here on Earth, everyone of us can look up in the sky at night and know, at least in some simple way, the way to progress.  President Kennedy knew it in 1962 when he inspired us to go to the moon:

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not only because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too. ” – John F. Kennedy

40 years ago today we went to the moon and walked on it because it was hard. We didn’t know exactly what would come of it or how it would benefit us. We just knew we had to go. That and we didn’t want those pesky Russians getting there first. But what would it have mattered if they had?

Did Armstrong’s mozy on the moon help us to win the Cold War? If it did, perhaps it was simply because it was hard. Because it was a giant leap for mankind and we took it. Because giant leaps inspire us and spur us on to greater things we can only yet imagine.

Since the genesis of Man, we have inwardly pondered the great mystery of our own existence. And this is good. But part of that pondering is to explore the mystery of the universe from within which we ponder. However, we are always challenged to put some type of value on this exploration.

It seems an impossible task to do. But in tough economic times and plenty of problems back here on planet Earth, it’s something we ultimately must do. Space exploration is expensive. How much is it worth to us? Judging by our current efforts, we’d have to conclude “not very much.”

The Washington Post had a good article last week by Charles Krauthammer, The Moon We Left Behind.  He has his own good opinions on it, but he also documents the current state of our Space Program.

“America’s manned space program is in shambles. Fourteen months from today, for the first time since 1962, the United States will be incapable not just of sending a man to the moon but of sending anyone into Earth orbit. We’ll be totally grounded. We’ll have to beg a ride from the Russians or perhaps even the Chinese.”

Of course it’s easy to say, “well yeah, we’re already running the biggest deficit in the history of the world, I hardly think we need to be spending a bunch of extra money on space ships.”  Fair enough.

But what is it worth to us?  Can we afford to not be investing in space exploration? Is it even constitutional to take money from private citizens and spend it on space exploration? Are we too inwardly focused on ourselves now…forgetting about the massive wonder that engulfs our smallness? Do we forget just how tiny and fragile our existence truly is?

Just how important is space exploration?  Why should we do it?

Krauthammer answers:

“Why do it? It’s not for practicality. We didn’t go to the moon to spin off cooling suits and freeze-dried fruit. Any technological return is a bonus, not a reason. We go for the wonder and glory of it. Or, to put it less grandly, for its immense possibilities. We choose to do such things, said JFK, “not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” And when you do such magnificently hard things — send sailing a Ferdinand Magellan or a Neil Armstrong — you open new human possibility in ways utterly unpredictable.”

I think we could use some new possibilities these days. What do you all think?

Progress usually comes in small steps and at great cost.  40 years ago it took a giant leap and we’ve been studying by the light of the moon ever since. Has that light now grown dim?  Is it time for another giant leap?


7 comments Add comment

pinko July 21, 2009 at 9:00 am

Matt. For perhaps the third time in our entire lives, I agree with you entirely. Let’s shake on this one. Not because it was easy, but because it was hard.

Shelly@ Of Sound Mind & Spirit July 21, 2009 at 9:04 am

We should definitely be looking ahead to the moon. Listen to all of the interviews done over the past weekend with the Apollo astronauts, especially Cernan, and you will hear them say that it is vital that we continue.

Here in my neck of the woods we’ve been hosting a 7 day Orion module review. It’s inspiring to watch groups of engineers working on solutions to complicated problems that come with building a new Command Module to return us to the moon or Mars.

I think society as a whole has grown complacent – wanting everything to be easy. They expect problems to be resolved in 60 min or fewer (with commercials). They wait for “someone else” to take care of them or the problem. We need to do the hard things. We need to take the long path. We are better as a country, as a people, for the struggle.

Matthew Warner July 21, 2009 at 9:47 am

It feels good, Pinko. :-)

Phil July 21, 2009 at 11:10 am

Good post Matt. I was watching the news yesterday and they were discussing whether or not we should continue to pursue Mars. Aside from the pride and symbolism of being the first and sticking a US flag on the red planet, the discussion about why the space program is so important opened my eyes a bit.

Aside from the reasons to want to pursue the space program and more importantly, Mars (i.e. research of raw materials, potential microscopic lifeforms, etc.) keeping the space program alive helps keep America on top of it’s game. When we fund a program that aims to travel vast distances, it requires us to invent new technology to do so. Consequently, there is always the potential that we may find new applications for this technology in everyday uses here on Earth that make us more effecient and more economically advanced!

Also, when you create dreams for the young minds of tomorrow, you in turn can help encourage them to strive to acheive them. To study hard, to learn more, etc. – this is what would be required to be an astronaut that goes to Mars.

So there are some beneficial side effects that this program can have on the USA that don’t strictly apply to what can be learned from, say Mars, or derived from the thrill of setting foot on an untapped planet!

Fr. Claudio Rios Saavedra c.s.v. July 22, 2009 at 11:51 am

Good post Matt. El buen desarrollo de las capacidades que Dios da al hombre, no hay duda que es una bendición.
El progreso siempre es bueno mientras nos ayude a “aterrizar”. El problemas es que muchos “viven en la luna”

Patricia March 18, 2010 at 7:16 pm

I don’t know. I agree that doing the things that are hard can be good. In fact, I think the best things in life usually are hard. However, I also think a lot of our technology has not benefitted us or has caused more problems than solutions. Just because we can do something does not mean we should (as Michael Crighton observed in Jurrassic Park). I believe in the use of our human imagination, but I also think wisdom and prudence need to guide where we choose to apply it. Our technology allows us to have every kind of food year round in the grocery store, but the nutritionally depleted junk and additive laden product sold and consumed by most Americans has made us more sick, not healthier. We can travel great distances in short amounts of time, but our families and communities seem more distant from each other as we rush from appointment, to games, to work, etc. We should all rejoice and be renewed by the wonder of this world, but should we be spending time and effort in space when maybe the hard things we are called to do are closer to home? Do wisdom and prudence balance our imagination and drive? Is spending money and effort in space what we are called to as a nation right now? I am not saying I know the anwer, but I think it is a worthy question to raise.

Catholic debating pro-life April 22, 2010 at 7:20 pm


We are in the middle of an extreme economic recession. Yes, it is very important to open up new possibilities and expand our horizons. But is it more important than making sure we still have money in the budget to help the poor or ensure that people here on Earth have jobs? I don’t think so.

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