In 1969, after Michael Collins brought Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin back from the moon, all three were asked to address Congress. Collins said:
During the flight of Apollo 11, in the constant sunlight between the earth and the moon, it was necessary for us to control the temperature of our spacecraft by a slow rotation not unlike that of a chicken on a barbecue spit. As we turned, the earth and the moon alternately appeared in our windows. We had our choice. We could look toward the Moon, toward Mars, toward our future in space—toward the new Indies—or we could look back toward the Earth, our home, with its problems spawned over more than a millennium of human occupancy.
We looked both ways. We saw both, and I think that is what our Nation must do.
Standing on the moon, Aldrin and Armstrong saw Earth rising above the lunar plains. The sight and photographs they took of the event stand as a reminder that what unites us as people and as inhabitants of this planet is greater than what divides us. Lines on a map are and ought to be as nothing compared to the blue line of atmosphere and the thinner green line of life that sustains us and separates us from the void. The founders of Earth Day were inspired in part by this and other images of Earth taken from space, and from a desire to unite around a vision of a better future. Neil Armstrong understood that when he told Congress
Science has not mastered prophesy. We predict too much for next year yet far too little for the next ten. Responding to challenge is one of democracy’s great strengths. Our successes in space lead us to hope that this strength can be used in the next decade in the solution of many of our planet’s problems.
And Buzz Aldrin reminded us that “ ‘A small step for a man,’ was a statement of fact, ‘giant leap for mankind,’ is a hope for the future.”
We are living in a future built by visionaries. It is a future built by teams like those that sent Apollo 11 to the moon, and by the people who saved the Bald Eagle from extinction. How sad would it have been had the central figure in the Apollo 11 mission patch gone extinct? How sad if the world captured in iconic images like the one above were to be destroyed or unalterably changed?
There are those who consider it hubris to think we could possibly do such a thing. Alas, the evidence is clear, and the only hubris consists in actually doing so with open eyes. Our ancestors could not see what Michael Collins did as he orbited the Moon, nor what we can see with satellites and weather stations across the globe. Down one path lies a future of security, wealth and unity. Down another lies a continuation of the discord and instability of our past. We can choose our path, and we can only chart a wise course by following Collins’ advice – looking both ways.