Tranquility Base (Isn't) Here... Yet

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On days like these, it can be easy to lose your faith in humanity.

The early morning news of the savage killing of 12 innocent moviegoers in Denver, Colo., has swamped the media with eye witness accounts and harrowing stories from what should have been a fun night out. Sadly, one individual, for what ever reason, decided that he was going to hurt and kill as many people as possible.

Continued reading of the headlines revealed more stories of the crappy things we do to each other; details of the violence behind the Syrian uprising and analysis of the recent Bulgarian terror attack to name just two. It seems humanity is doomed to fail — our nature to maim and kill using increasingly innovative means seems to know no bounds.

And yet, today should be the celebration of two incredible space achievements that epitomizes humanity’s drive to peacefully explore and do bold, noble things.

ANALYSIS: When Landing on the Moon, Practice Makes Perfect

On July 20, 1969, NASA astronaut Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon, radioing back to Earth the second-most famous Apollo Program quote: “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” (The most famous quote was, of course, Armstrong’s “One small step”).

According to the archive footage and narrator in the documentary excerpt in the video above, the Apollo 11 moon landing united us, drawing in hundreds of millions of people from around the world. At that moment, regardless of race, religion or age, mankind was focused on one historic event that they knew would change us forever. Putting all the politics as to why we went to the moon in the first place to one side, it was that moment that our planet collectively believed that as a race, we can do mindblowing things.

Also, on July 20, 1976, a robotic NASA lander touched down on the Martian surface to search for extraterrestrial life. Although results initially came back positive, scientists discounted them. But in recent years, as excellently described by Discovery News’ Ray Villard, the Viking results may actually have been the “proof of life” we’ve been looking for.

ANALYSIS: Did We Meet Martians 36 Years Ago?

So, when I woke this morning, my excitement for these two historic space events vaporized when I read about the Denver attack. How can humanity be capable of such incredible, selfless, bold feats of ingenuity also be capable of such horrific actions?

Seeking the “reasons why” the shooter did what he did is pointless, it just seems to be in our nature. Psychologists to philosophers have been debating this throughout history, and science may eventually be able to explain some components of humanity’s inextricable drift toward violent acts. But to the victims of this particular crime, the “what does it mean?” means nothing. Life was, apparently, randomly snatched from them.

The juxtaposition of today’s tragedy with two historic space events is jarring. They epitomize the worst and the best of humanity.

So, 43 years ago today, when Armstrong uttered the words, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed,” it’s worth remembering that, although mankind may not have tranquility in our nature, we do have the capability of doing profound things.

But for now, my thoughts are with the families and victims in Denver.

“The most important human endeavor is the striving for morality in our actions. Our inner balance and even our very existence depend on it. Only morality in our actions can give beauty and dignity to life.” — Albert Einstein