There are these moments that come. When you’re in front of a classroom full of eager young minds. One of them asks a question that shows real insight. It can make my day. Or my whole week.
I got a question on Monday that has stayed with me. A girl asked me,
If it was so dangerous to go to the moon, why did we go? Couldn’t we have just sent probes like we do for Mars?
Great question. It’s one that many people asked back in the 60s. And it’s one we must ask ourselves now.
I could have talked about the desire for humans to explore. The deep curiosity that lies within us all. The need to climb a mountain just because it’s there. The urge to do something we have always dreamed of, regardless of the enormous risks.
I could have talked about those things, but instead I went a different route. I asked her,
Did you know that the surface of the moon smells just like gunpowder?
She looked as though I was avoiding her question. But that to me defines the real reason we have to go ourselves. What machine could tell us that? What machine could describe what 1/6 gravity feels like, or how to walk in it. What machine could have 100 million people glued to their TVs in one unifying evening to witness our greatest achievement.
What machine would have known to take that picture of the Earth rising over the distant horizon? The astronauts of Apollo 8 were supposed to be filming the moon’s surface for potential landing sites but instead something turned their attention. And they sent back a picture that no one on Earth can look at without imagining all we have achieved as a species.
We take the risks, and we go, because in the end science is a verb.
It’s not something we study. It’s something we do.