A lesson from space for all
There were celebrations around the world recently to mark 50 years since men began a new chapter in our history by setting foot on the surface of the Moon.
The footprint of an astronaut’s boot in the lunar sand became an embedded image in the minds of millions who were still in the grip of wondering if this was really happening.
While the three brave astronauts, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, became instant global celebrities, the real story behind this tremendous achievement involved thousands of people from all parts of the world, including Bermuda, in opening a new frontier where there would be no turning back.
I was a reporter for this newspaper at the time, and I recall duty editor William Zuill Sr saying to me that the TV picture was not all that clear, but the event itself was. Back in those days it was black-and-white television and nothing to compare to the high-definition colour of today’s technology.
The new frontier of space has been a challenge in recent decades and, although much has been achieved through co-operation between major powers, which in fact led to the International Space Station now circling the globe, it was not without setbacks and loss of lives.
However, with each tragic incident, lessons were learnt to improve what astronaut Scott Kelly has described as a most complex and demanding process because there is no room to be complacent when a life depends on getting it right. He actually spent a year on the space station as one of the experiments.
Before the early Fifties, the only exposure to space activity for many of us was seeing Buck Rogers in a movie theatre serial that ran between prime-time features. Watching him flying what looked like a Thermos with an exhaust was always exciting. Most us never dreamt we would one day witness a real spaceship blasting off from the Kennedy Space Centre in full colour on our TV screens.
Today, there are so many international incidents flashed across our TV screens, it is easy to forget there are highly trained scientists from different nationalities and cultures working on various experiments aimed at improving life on Earth.
These men and women carry out their daily tasks without fanfare. Lost too often is how people of different cultures can combine their skills with the single objective of success. Also taken for granted is the highly complex procedure of replacing crews on the space station, involving hundreds on the ground in different countries.
Recently, the Soyuz MS-12 blasted off from Russian soil with a three-man crew headed for a rendezvous with the International Space Station. It was a six-hour trip. It was fascinating to watch from cameras on the space station how what first appeared as a little dot streaking through space slowly became another spaceship moving closer towards their new home.
What happened next was a series of highly complex steps carefully observed on the ground by the Russian command officer, who was issuing information vital to keeping the Soyuz on course for linking up with the space station.
For the crew on board Soyuz and the space station, it must have been assuring to hear everything was looking good, as space closed between both vehicles. At the moment of contact, there was relief from the commander on the ground in Russia, and both crews. As a result of further checks, it would be almost an hour before the hatch would be opened for the crews to meet.
After it was established that the Soyuz crew were in fine shape, the Russian commander mentioned there is always a degree of nervousness on such missions, and thanked both Russians involved in the launch, and the support from their colleagues at Nasa.
What was most striking was the spirit of co-operation that could be clearly heard between all involved in the operation. It was the same spirit that led to the successful moon landing 50 years ago.
If only lessons could be learnt on Earth that living together peacefully will mean working together, as we also learn to respect each other and the right to share our planet, which in a sense is a spaceship.
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