Astronaut Mike Massimino was deeply inspired by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s moon landing in 1969. As a six-year-old, he felt that the event was “the most important” of the past few hundred years, though he admits that his fear of heights made it difficult for him to imagine going to space himself.
After completing a PhD in mechanical engineering at MIT, Massimino became a NASA astronaut in 1996. During two missions, he carried out over 30 hours of spacewalks to repair the Hubble Space Telescope, which orbits the Earth at a distance of around 535 km. Nevertheless, he insists that his accomplishments in space would not have seemed possible to him as a child, when he struggled to overcome his fear of heights.
Massimino sees the Apollo moon landing program as having had a profound impact on the aspirations of millions of children, many of whom dreamed of becoming scientists, engineers or astronauts. Hubble and other achievements of space exploration, he suggests, simply wouldn’t exist without the ground-breaking advances in space technology that occurred during the Apollo era.
Today, it’s clear that the benefits of these early space programs go far beyond inspiration. Inventors and entrepreneurs who have revolutionized industries like computing have acknowledged the enormous importance of advances made during the space age. At the same time, though, the cost of human space travel remains extremely high, making it difficult to justify purely on the basis of inspiration or scientific discovery.