I was born seven years after the Apollo 11 Moon landing. As a child growing up, I was obsessed with space and wanted to be an astronaut. It seemed then that the Space Shuttle programme was not a step backward, but a chance to regroup and create the infrastructure to push on to ever greater goals; a moon base, a trip to mars. Even in 1980s Britain, where the government had long abandoned its own serious pursuit of a space programme, developments were under way to build a spaceplane.
On from this time, I have grown through the inevitable disillusionment that adulthood brings. Space programmes did not flourish. Instead, there were notable accidents. Nobody went back to The Moon. The technological revolution we did have was not one that I was expecting; a networked supercomputer in every pocket.
I also became aware of other takes on the space programme. As British ideas about spaceplanes encountered problems with something called ‘cost effectiveness’ – as they inevitably would in Thatcher’s monetarist Britain – I also encountered the moral case against space exploration: How can you possibly justify spending billions on sending people into space when there are people who are starving?
I now think arguments about cost effectiveness or about other things that money could be spent on are misguided. There is no guarantee that if you stop spending money in one place you can ensure that it is spent wisely in another place. I am no economist, but I believe that wealth is not a zero sum game. Wealth can be created and sometimes you create wealth by building Ziggurats.
Moonshots are our Ziggurats. They inspire awe. They inspire purpose. They demonstrate what humanity can achieve, together.
This is analogous, I believe, to arguments about education. Education is not just about preparing young people for the workplace. It is not to be judged solely on its cost effectiveness. Education inspires awe. It inspire purpose. It demonstrates what humanity can achieve, together.
Education is our Moonshot.