Tryst with moon

The first landing on the moon, 40 years ago this day, was at the same time an assertion of human possibilities and an acceptance of limitations. History caught up with imagination in a bright moment of discovery and achievement, but after internalising the epochal event through science, art, culture, politics and all other human perspectives, there is also realisation that the giant leap for mankind was just a small step. That does not diminish the import of Neil Armstrong’s tryst with the moon, because it was for the first time that man flew into a different territorial destiny that had only been dreamt of. The Apollo mission had been propelled by billions of dreams dreamt for thousands of years. It was an expression of the basic human urge to grow out of oneself and a natural culmination of the continuing conquest of time and space. It was also an act of competition and a sign of dominance. If the cold war were not there, the moon might not have been pursued so hotly. Armstrong was the reply for Gagarin, and once the score was settled in space, the traffic slowed down.

And yet the landing on the moon redefined man and changed his idea of himself as few other ideas and events did before. In future it may be considered as another Copernican moment when an identity shaped by habitation on the earth and its centrality in the scheme of life got another hard knock. Man, in a strict, if minutest, sense of the term, is not just of the earth any longer. The earth has been extended by many more miles, with an Atlantic of space connecting it to a Newer World. If or when life infects the moon, colonies are formed there, its riches mined and attendant battles are fought, 1969 will be a much greater and more epiphanous than 1492.

The moon has inspired tender fancies, unhinged minds and charted out individual destinies. But it will have other roles now,  for humankind, not for men and women. Armstrong has made it more real. It may become a platform for reaching further out to the unknown, as it is now a window in the next room opening out into the space beyond. In the longer run of human future it may become just a lamp post on the cosmic highway. But our engagement with the romance of the moon cannot wane and this day the earth waxes again in that knowledge.

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