FILE - In this image provided by NASA, astronaut Buzz Aldrin poses for a photograph beside the U.S. flag deployed on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission on July 20, 1969. Television is marking the 50th anniversary of the July 20, 1969, moon landing with a variety of specials about NASA’s Apollo 11 mission. (Neil A. Armstrong/NASA via AP, File)

COLUMN: Looking back to a time of optimism

The first lunar landing 50 years ago was a time to celebrate dreams and accomplishments

The summer of 1969 was a time of optimism.

On July 20, the Apollo 11 spacecraft landed on the moon and shortly afterward, Neil Armstrong became the first person to set foot on the moon.

It was a huge accomplishment, one watched and cheered by millions.

For the first time, people had landed on the moon.

After such an accomplishment, anything seemed possible, and while we did not know what would come next, we would think of something.

Around this time, Arthur C. Clarke, a science fiction writer and futurist, stated, “I intend to go to the moon when the tourist service starts; and I hope (but hardly intend) to go to Mars.”

It didn’t happen and lunar tourism still is not a reality.

Close to the time of the first moon landing, in a message written to the students of 1969 and 2019, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau also expressed the optimism of the time.

“I am sure that, barring a nuclear catastrophe, the astounding progress in technology which we have experienced over the last half century will continue and probably accelerate,” he wrote.

Technological advancements have happened faster than most could imagine.

One decade after the first lunar landing, computer technology had developed to the point where it was possible for people to have computers in their homes.

Today, the smart phones so many of us carry contain hundreds of times more power than the entire computer system used for the first lunar spacecraft.

We have also seen significant developments in fields including medical science, food production, transportation and communications.

But Trudeau’s statement did not end with hope for a technologically advanced future. He also wanted to see scientific advancements used for good.

Continuing his comments about technological progress, he stated, “I only hope that it will be matched by similar progress in man’s historic struggle for freedom and justice in all parts of the world. The achievements of the students of 1969 and of their successors in working towards these goals will be their most important legacy to the students of 2019.”

Technological progress by itself is not enough. An ethical or humanitarian component is needed.

Were Trudeau’s hopes of a better world realized? That’s not an easy question to answer.

Some significant efforts have been made worldwide to bring justice or to remove totalitarian regimes.

But not all people in all parts of the world enjoy freedom and justice today.

Civil wars, international conflicts and oppressive governments are still in the news today. Only the names of the players and some finer points of ideology have changed.

While efforts have been made to feed the hungry, roughly one in nine people still do not get enough to eat. Despite this one-third of the food produced worldwide is lost or wasted.

Not all enjoy a world of peace, safety, freedom and justice.

Scientific progress by itself is not enough to achieve a better life.

On Nov. 11, 1948, more than two decades before the first moon landing, U.S. General Omar Bradley made a similar observation.

“We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount. The world has achieved brilliance without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living. If we continue to develop our technology without wisdom or prudence, our servant may prove to be our executioner.”

A lot has happened in the 50 years since the first moon landing. The question is how will we use our increased knowledge in the next 50 years.

John Arendt is the editor of the Summerland Review.

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