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To the moon and back

  • Published at 12:06 am July 23rd, 2019
Moon Landing
Photo: REUTERS

There’s more that the moon landing can teach us than we realize

My mother was asked to pray for Neil Armstrong and two other American astronauts the day the first man on the moon had made “one giant leap for mankind.” Days later, my elder brother received a letter from his penpal in Ohio, who wrote to him that they were more proud of the Apollo 11 commander, since he was from their state.

Remember, this was the world of 1969 and our part of the world was yet to see modern development. South Asians watched on television as Armstrong climbed down the ladder to touch the moon, making it a memorable moment of history.

In the 1970s, we were brought up in a village of Tangail with a lot of obsession regarding the moon landing and stories such as the Titanic disaster.

This was the time when people discussed one event or incident for months at a time.

When I had the opportunity to have a look at the Apollo 11 command module, Columbia, at a museum in Washington DC, the experience had me reminiscing back to my boyhood.

Even on the 50th anniversary of the first manned lunar landing, the story is still fresh. My friends and I are still curious to know more about what had happened. 

President John F Kennedy gave the order to send a giant rocket with men more than 240,000 miles away from Earth and return safely, much before many of us were born. We missed the momentous occasion of celebrating the flight to the moon or as many deemed to be a “hoax.”

Among many of the older generation, Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, and Michael Collins had emerged as real life characters when they paraded through the Dhaka streets during their “Giantstep-Apollo Presidential Goodwill Tour” on October 27, 1969.

One of the two survivors, Aldrin, however, recalled that he and his crewmates were so absorbed in doing their jobs that they were oddly disconnected from how momentous the occasion was. 

Unlike them, the people of today’s world do not fail to capture the moments with their mobile phone cameras and upload online, hardly wondering if they should be sharing so much data with others or not.

Taking snapshots and publicizing them has become the motto of all acts, be it the inauguration of something or the tour of a beautiful place. In another way, they are doing the same as Armstrong and co, deliberately forgetting to enjoy the moment so that they may dedicate their present to the future and to others.

The astronauts risked their lives for a purpose while the social media users try to live elsewhere, away from the current reality.

It’s beyond my knowledge to ascertain how far the space mission brought gains for the materialistic establishment of the West; this has still changed the thinking world of the subsequent decades. The Americans at least proved their technological superiority. The moon mission had been materialized within the timeframe spelled out by Kennedy.

After three-score years, when we pursue the goal of becoming a middle-income country, Dhaka’s mosquitoes have evoked the biblical account of Namrud (or Nimrod), who was attacked by a mosquito. A minister is scared of going to one of his offices fearing bites from small insects. AHM Mustafa Kamal reportedly said: “I have been bitten twice -- once affected by chikungunya and then dengue … I am not going there anymore out of fear.”

Kamal, the custodian of the national exchequer, appeared to have been oblivious to the fact that it is none but they as a party who has been in power in the entire previous decade to at least build a livable city. Can he set the target of securing a living space on another planet to offload some of the pressure of the population?

He has the scope to invest in human resources and hunt talents who can carry forward the research and development accomplished so far by scientists and explorers.

When we applaud the glory of Neil Armstrong, we simply ignore the tougher part of his mission. He ejected from a flight moments before the training crash and he took manual control of the lunar module Eagle at the most uncertain moment.

Sometimes we wonder why we even read about the space mission when we fear to dream big. Then again, we find we have many things to learn from people like Neil Armstrong. 

Khawaza Main Uddin is a journalist and winner of UN MDG Award, Developing Asia Journalism Award and WFP Award.