When Russia and America began their space programs, it was an absolute competition of intelligence, resources, and abilities. Both nations became obsessed with ballistic missiles. Scoreboard: 1:1. Both nations then dwelled in sending a satellite to space until Soviet Russia launched Sputnik 1. Scoreboard: 2:1. Both nations vowed to send a man in space first until Yuri Gagarin and Alan Sheppard floated outside the Earth’s atmosphere. Though Gagarin reached orbit first in an automatically driven aircraft, Sheppard was the first to manually control an aircraft in space. Scoreboard: 3:2. America, eager to catch up, swore to land on the moon first while Soviet Russia vowed to never let America conquer the moon. On July 21st, 1969 Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon declaring the most often quoted line in history. Total Scoreboard: 3:3.
Though both nations achieved uncountable advances in technology, education, and research, in retrospect, the entire race seems a bit juvenile – like two children singing “anything you can do I can do better. I can do anything better than you. No, you can't. Yes, I can. No, you can't...” In the end, both children are evenly matched. One child can accomplish Task A first while the other child can accomplish Task B first. Neither child can accomplish Task A and Task B first at the same time. In other words, both children have their own strengths and weaknesses, and in this light, both children are more or less equal. Sooner or later both children realize that instead of competing against each other, they should be combining their intelligences, resources, and abilities in order to achieve a more challenging task. Today, over a dozen matured “children” have joined together to create the world’s most astounding engineering feat, the International Space Station. In this manner, the children who were once enemies have become brothers. In this manner, the countries who were once enemies have become allies. For this reason I believe that if world peace were in any way humanly possible, it could only be attained through human space flight.
I know what you are thinking. “World peace is absolutely impossible. To even think the idea is naive and insane!” Sure, maybe it is impossible, and maybe the thought is naive and insane. But when our grandparents were children, the very idea of human spaceflight was naive and insane. Just because the idea seems silly does not mean we should not dream. Besides, if we weren’t dreamers, you probably wouldn’t be reading this right now. While human nature tends to differ in ideology, religion, and politics, human nature also tends to band together when facing a task too arduous for the individual nation. Human nature bands together when confronted with a challenge tougher than anything encountered before. Human nature, despite all differences, believes in science.
While I worked as a summer intern at Stennis Space Center, I was lucky enough to meet the astronauts of the STS-132 and STS-134 missions and I noticed in each of them an intense almost saint-like humility — the mark of an astronaut. For example, when I spoke to Michael Fincke, who will break the US record for the longest time spent in space after his next mission, he did not seem like a famous astronaut; he seemed more like the neighbor across the street reminiscing about his family and friends. You know what we talked about? He taught me how to say “hi” in Russian — “piveet.” We shared stories about our families worrying for us while we were away from home. We discussed preferences in cookies and fruit — how we both liked strawberries and cookies with macadamia nuts. Michael Fincke, future US astronaut record holder, could talk to a mere summer intern as if we were equals.
In the 2006 movie Namesake, a father leads his son to the end of a pier looking out into the ocean and says “remember this day, remember this day forever — a day we have gone somewhere so far there was nowhere left to go.” Garrett Reisman told us that when he climbed on top of a robotic arm over the International Space Station, he called back to his crew saying “You make fun of me because I am short. Well, right now, I’m the tallest guy in the whole world!” I laughed, but at the same time I figured out the cause for the unique mark of humility the astronauts shared. They have reached the furthest limit of their time. They have “seen the world,” literally, and in it they saw no boarders between states, no boarders between countries, no racial disparities, no cultural stereotypes, no disparity of status, nothing. They saw the world as it is without manmade boundaries. They had gone somewhere so far that they themselves were beyond manmade boundaries.
Then in order to advance all of humanity, we all must go beyond manmade boundaries. We must think of ourselves first and foremost as Citizens of the World, not Americans, Europeans, Middle Easterners, or Asians. When Neil Armstrong landed on the moon he said “that’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind” not “one giant leap for America.” From all over the world, every astronaut since has expressed similar ideas. Oleg Atkov from Russia said that it isn't important whose Earth it is, “just that it is.” Sultan bin Salman of Saudi Arabia said "The first day or so we all pointed to our countries. The third or fourth day we were pointing to our continents. By the fifth day, we were aware of only one Earth." Frank Borman from the USA said that “when you’re finally up on the moon, looking back at the earth,” all differences and nationalistic traits blend and you realize that perhaps there is really one world, and we should get along “like decent people.”
It took one look at the Earth from outer space for us to realize how delicate our planet was and initiate the environmental movement in the late 1960s. Maybe if we challenge ourselves further by expanding the horizon of human spaceflight, we’ll realize that there is one world and we are all one humanity, one team. It matters not whether we choose to build settlements on the moon or send a man to Mars so long as we challenge ourselves beyond all limits. The future of human space flight is the advancement of humanity, the embracement of brotherhood, and the broadening of our horizons. The future of human space flight is expanding our intelligence, our resources, and our abilities. We should throw away the scoreboard between nations and instead keep track of the score of mankind. Scoreboard: 0: infinity.