On this 4th of July, 2015, New Horizons hurtles toward Pluto. It’s a mere 7,240,920 miles away and closing fast. If all goes as planned, we should see tantalizing photos in under two weeks. This serves as a reminder of just how far we have come since people first set foot on the Moon nearly 46 years ago. Here’s one of the iconic photos of Astronaut John Young, commander of Apollo 16.
Today, I am struck, not only by how far we’ve been able to send space craft, but also by the globalization of the efforts to explore other planets, moons, asteroids, and everything else that’s out there. While some may decry the perceived loss of American supremacy in space exploration, I do not share those views. Indeed, I am reminded that centuries ago, the efforts of European explorers to reach distant lands did not depend upon the interest of a single nation or the will of a single monarch. It is precisely the international nature of the attempts to further human understanding of the origins and evolution of the Solar System that reassures me of the progress we are making.
For those like me, who remember the grainy black and white images on our 1969 televisions, it seems like the ability to follow #PlutoFlyby from the comfort of our laptops and phones is yet another demonstration that we’re living in the future.
I agree with you except that European explorations were entirely meant to benefit single countries and monarchs. Queen Isabel I of Spain sent Columbus for the greater glory of Spain. There was no cooperation, only competition and often enough bloody conflict, such as the French and Indian War by the British colonies in North America. The ghastly greedy empire-building became a disaster for native peoples around the world, and we’re still dealing with its consequences. The European Age of Exploration stands as a lesson in what not to do — and we very easily could without the commitment like yours to keep space explorations peaceful and international.