May 25th 1961, President John F Kennedy to Congress: ‘First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.’
Eight years and fifty six days, tens of billions of dollars and the stellar work of 400,000 people later, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon. It was a four-day, 240,000 mile journey at speeds of over 24,000 mph that started at 9.32am on July 16th 1969 from launch Pad 39A at Cape Kennedy, Florida and ended at 4.18pm on July 20th with the contact light and Armstrong’s immortal words, ‘the Eagle has landed.’.
Four minutes to 11pm that same night, Neil Armstrong puts his left foot on the surface of the moon. Possibly the most famous TV broadcast in the history of television was watched by an audience of over half a billion people including his sons Rick and Mark who watched it form their home in Houston.
In any list of humankind’s greatest achievements, putting a man on the moon (or 12 men by the end of the Apollo program) ranks up there with the best, but what else makes the list?
The trouble with putting together a list of this nature is that it’s purely subjective. What is considered a great achievement to one may not be considered to be a great achievement by another so here follows our choices.
Just by the way, from some cursory internet research on humankind’s greatest inventions, we found some of these gems. Again, subjective…
- Winning an argument with my wife
- Ice lollies
- Pot Noodles
- Nike Air Jordans
- Phone chargers
- Snow globes
- Golf trousers
But back to the actual list, here it is, in all its glory, and in an age of unprecedented stupidity, we should say a collective thank you to the men and women who have gone over and above to create future that we need – more so than ever – to look after carefully…
It’s widely considered that Edward Jenner, the inventor of the smallpox vaccine, has saved more human lives than any other man in history and along with his compatriots Louis Pasteur (rabies, cholera and anthrax), Alexander Glenny (tetanus) and Jonas Salk (polio), they have prevented, and in some cases eradicated, diseases that threatened millions upon millions of people.
The Printing Press
For millennia, knowledge was only passed on verbally and through easy to understand drawings. Early books were very hard to reproduce and were the domain of scholars, the wealthy and the clergy, but along came German blacksmith Johannes Gutenberg who invented the moveable type printing press in the mid-1400s.
It allowed for books to become available to everyone and the machine, based on an early wine press, played a key role in the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Age of Enlightenment and laid the material base for spreading learning to the masses.
The introduction of the railway ushered in the industrial age. Journeys that took days were reduced to mere hours and to illustrate the point, Napoleon crossed the Alps in 1800 at much the same speed as Hannibal did 2,000 years previously. Forty years later that same journey could be done at 60 mph.
It allowed for goods to be transported quickly and efficiently, especially fresh food and building materials which in turn allowed for better living conditions and the growth of the cities. People could move around the country and visit places they would have only seen in newspapers and magazines and it reinvigorated the economy.
Ancient mariners used the stars to navigate the seas but that meant they couldn’t sail during the day. The Chinese invented a compass 2,000 years ago using a magnetised iron ore and modern-day versions use essentially the same basic principles.
Armed with an accurate compass, the age of discovery was born. Travellers could traverse the seas knowing where they were and the further you could transport goods, the more valuable they became. With commerce as a capitalist driving force, sailors connected the world, drastically cutting travel times and making more of the world’s goods immediately accessible to more of the world’s people. The first successful maritime clock was designed and built by John Harrison in the 18th century and it made for one of the very best episodes of Only Fools and Horses when Del Boy and Rodney found one in their lock-up and sold it for £6.2 million!
Credited to Thomas Edison since he invented a fully-functioning lighting system, there were in fact around two dozen people instrumental in inventing incandescent lamps throughout the 1800s. When all you have is natural light, productivity is limited to daylight hours but as the electric light bulb took hold, productivity moved to a round the clock operation – more was produced, more was used and more money was made.
The lightbulb also fundamentally changed peoples’ sleep patterns. Pre-1800s, people would go to bed when it got dark (in winter that could mean 4pm) and get up at what we consider to be the middle of the night. Candles and oil lamps were dangerous fire hazards and with many people working later (and at more regular hours), safer night-time luminosity allowed for later leisure activities.
In truth, the list of amazing achievements doesn’t – and crucially, won’t – end. There’s the electric dynamo, Charles Babbage’s analytical engine that was the forerunner of the computer you’re reading this article on, pasteurisation, plastic, the telephone, the internal combustion engine, vulcanised rubber, the aeroplane, radar technology, concrete, the controlled use of fire, batteries and even the humble nail.
All play a part in how we operate on a day to day basis and yet every amazing invention and achievement is taken for granted.
What Does The Future Hold?
It’s unlikely we’re going to see the hoverboards that Marty McFly promised us waaaaaay back in the mid-80s but what about self-driving cars, underwater cities, the colonisation of Mars, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology that can acquire and kill cancer cells, hypersonic planes that will get us to Sydney in two hours and the one we all want – the four-day working week based on massive efficiencies in productivity…maybe not.
This future tech is being worked on right now by the biggest brains in the world and like every single invention ever created, there will be costly failures before roll-outs happen but that’s the way it works.
Orrin Woodward, one of the world’s leading experts on leadership said ‘Success is assured when a person fears the pain of regret more than the pain of the process.’
He’s right. Like anything, very rarely will you get it right first time. In fact none other than Thomas Edison said ‘I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work’ and that’s a mantra we can all relate to.
What we’re essentially saying is don’t give up, put the work in and you’ll reap the rewards, whether that’s inventing a way to feed the Third World or looking for a new job – and anything and everything in between.
Catch you soon.