For Neil Armstrong, "Staying Put Meant Death"

"Staying put means death - it is true physically, true spiritually and true intellectually."

In honor of the passing of Neil Armstrong, the first human to set foot on the moon, I'm re-posting a video that summarizes for me why exploration is so important to the human species. In this three minute video, Mars scientist Nathalie Cabrol describes how she decided she would devote her life to space exploration and why she thinks it's so important still, especially now. But it's the quote above that captures the essence of her argument.

Forget for a moment that Cabrol is talking about her field of planetary exploration and ask yourself what worthwhile discovery has ever been made that didn't involve risk - risk to financial status, to reputation and yes, to individual lives. By the time Armstrong and Aldrin climbed through the hatch between the command module Columbia and entered the spidery and impossibly thin womb of the lunar module Eagle in orbit around the moon, they had devoted thousands of hours to to simulated lunar landings. They had practiced countless scenarios. But they didn't know whether would succeed, or whether they'd be coming back at all. I think it was the not knowing that made all the difference. Despite sounding alarms from an overtaxed and primitive flight computer, and warnings that their fuel was nearly exhausted, it was the not knowing that took them to the surface in less than ten minutes following their lunar de-orbit burn.

For a pie-eyed little boy who watched these explorers, one after another, return in scorched and buoyant capsules under red and white banners, and who would later earn his license to fly, the last forty years have been a massive let down. Fresh from a trip to another body in our solar system, we've been flying in circles ever since. In that time, the budget for space exploration has been cut by over 90 percent from its Apollo height. And yet one can argue that it was the electronic breakthroughs - like the integrated circuit - created from the impossible idea that humans could go to the moon that made today's digital culture possible. Peter Thiel sums it up when he says we wanted a future of flying cars and got 140 characters instead. So I guess there's that.


"Staying put means death - it is true physically, true spiritually and true intellectually." Cabrol's video is less than four minutes long. If by the end of her brief appearance you're out of your seat, fists pumping, I think you'll feel right at home at the IdeaFestival.

It's a place where explorers gather.