Footsteps in the universe
Precisely 50 years ago, a message of peace was sent by three men from space for all inhabitants of this planet. And, the timing could not have been better. In 1968, the world was a mess. US was, as usual, politically divided. Heroes like Martin Luther King Jr and Robert F Kennedy had been gunned down by assassins. More US troops were dying than ever in the Vietnam War. The state of the poor, the world over, could not have been worse. People were questioning authority and resisting the status quo. But by Christmas Eve, the Apollo 8 crew, Frank Borman, Bill Anders, and Jim Lovell had made history. For the first time, humans had travelled to another world. "This is Apollo 8 coming to you live from the moon," Borman announced after activating a small hand-held TV camera. An estimated one billion people in 64 countries were tuning in. Borman continued: "We are now approaching lunar sunrise and for all the people back on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message for you, 'Peace, good luck, a merry Christmas and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth'." For the US and the world, the message of peace became a welcome bright spot after a series of dark tragedies. In the late 1960s, young people were wondering where these heroes had gone. For many, the Apollo programme provided an answer. Indeed, Apollo inspired young people who went on to change the world, like Microsoft co-founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen, Google co-founder Sergey Brin and Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. Also fired up by Apollo were two others named Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, who, of course, went on to start their own aerospace companies. Bezos remembers being five and watching Neil Armstrong take the first human steps on the moon which spurred the entrepreneur to embrace "this idea of science, engineering, technology and exploration." Of course, the crew of Apollo 11 was the first to land on the moon but Apollo 8's firsts were arguably more impressive. The principal task of Apollo 8 was to test the spacecraft and photograph the surface to find landing spots for Apollo 11. There was, of course, a lot of risk. But its success made heroes out of the crew and paved the way for eight more manned moonshots. But there were painful lessons proving that exploration comes with deadly risks. Some, in fact, perished. After Apollo ended in 1972, the space shuttles were retired in 2011. Once humans develop the rockets and other infrastructure to return to the moon, then the technology could someday expand for man to go to Mars. But that is a distant dream.