Our history has many cautionary tales about not exceeding our limits: Icarus who tried to fly to the sun till his wings melted; the tower of Babel, when man tried to reach heaven.
Mankind has always set himself high goals and quite often achieved them; but even 40 years later, the Apollo moon landings stand out as one of the greatest moments. The enormity of the achievement has never faded; it is something that all mankind has come to take pride in.
My grandfather told me of listening to the radio in a dusty refugee camp and hearing a man had flown to the moon; some men wanted to go to the moon while others just wanted to go back to their country of origin.
When Kennedy announced the target of reaching the moon by the end of the decade; he did it as a challenge to the Russians.
When the Russians launched the sputnik satellite in 1957, the Americans realised that the Russians had rockets that could also fly over America; they needed a way to surpass the Russian propaganda victory.
The moon was set as a target and billions were invested in the process; it cost the equivalent of $100 billion today but it has been worth it.
The pride it gave America and the world was worth it, the technology developed by NASA has helped power the internet and our technological age but psychologically it proved that man is capable of anything.
For the men involved it was eternal legendary status; Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins did what the human race was dreaming of for centuries.
Their lives were radically changed by going to the moon; they spoke of the sight of seeing the world as a little blue ball in the distance.
Armstrong rarely speaks of his greatest moment when he took “a giant leap for mankind” he suffered from depression after he achieved all he ever wanted; he lived his whole life to achieve something then had nothing to look forward to.
The global media aspect of this occasion was remarkable; today we are used to the whole world tuning in to see a momentous occasion but this one stopped the world for a few minutes.
Even their mortal enemies, the Russians had to congratulate the Americans; the best man won.
No moment in space travel has matched that moment and funding slowly died out for such missions; the real lesson of the moon landings is the journey is more important than the destination.
In the process of going to the moon we learnt and invented so many things; your modern computer, the microchip, microwave, cell-phone, video, internet modem, scanner, LCD TV, Titanium pans, and indeed most of your daily electronic items wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for NASA.
Now 40 years later we see why that moment was so important in our human development.
The goals you set in life determine how you measure success; in Rwanda we could have chosen lower more achievable goals but in Vision 2020 we chose to aim high. Even if we do not achieve all of them, we will have surpassed our expectations and made Rwanda a better country.
When Kennedy set the target of the moon none of the ingredients were there; few thought it was possible and many thought it was a waste of money.
Even till this day we cannot fully justify spending billions in space while others starve; but humans need goals and the higher the better.
It was by thinking big that USA got to its global dominance; they have a real “can-do” attitude.
They changed the motto of “nothing is impossible” to “impossible is nothing.” America is a pioneer nation; they pioneered from East to West, then when the conquered the Earth, they set their eyes on the heavens.
The goals that people in leadership set, define the psyche of a nation; the spirit and ethos in the leaders seeps into all citizens’ life. In this journey to development we are eager to get to our destination; but the journey is more important than arriving.
In our development we will learn so much along the way; we will problem-solve, trouble-shoot and innovate our way to development.
Every small step for a Rwandan is a giant leap for Rwandans in general; we might reach the moon but only if we aim higher, for the stars.