Forty-six years before NASA whizzed past Pluto, mankind landed on the moon: July, 1969.
The Risk of Flying Too High vs. Flying Too Low
As Seth Godin aptly points out in his book “The Icarus Deception,” (Portfolio, 2012) the Icarian story has been filtered to show that flying too high is hubris and must be punished. Most of us know the story: Icarus has wings made from wax and feathers, he is warned not to fly too close to the sun, he flies too high, the wax melts, and down he goes...
However, the complete myth includes warnings from Daedalus, Icarus’ father, to avoid flying too low, where Icarus could be hit be archers or grabbed by sea creatures; this part of the story is lost in cultural translation. For pilots both literal and metaphorical, it is far more dangerous to stay low to the ground, than to fly high to the sky. Planes can hit mountains or buildings, they can't collide with the sky.
American mythology admires the rare hero who transcends the status quo and reaches beyond others to succeed.
Yet, our mythology far more often preaches the wisdom of staying behind and playing it “safe.”
In the “Wizard of Oz,” the most powerful magic in the land is not the wicked witch’s flying broomstick, or Glinda’s flying bubble, or even her magic wand... it is Dorothy’s ruby slippers, purloined from the recently deceased witch of the West. The magic of the slippers is to return the wearer back to whence they came, grounded and safe. (I would have much preferred the colorful land of Oz to the black and white, dusty and tornado-ed, life in Kansas, as depicted in the film.)
In Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” protagonist George Bailey must stay home too, sacrificing the life of travel and adventure of which he has always dreamed. Staying home, along with other local factors, has induced him to attempt suicide. Nonetheless, Clarence the angel shows him that being grounded, staying home, is where he must remain in order to succeed.
Thus, we are taught from our earliest memories to stay grounded. And, we are told that grounded is comfortable and safe, when indeed, it is not.
Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” - Neale Donald Walsch
Personal and professional greatness, pride and excitement beckon us from above; we must reach high off the ground to get there.
Dare to dream and have the courage to act.
President John F. Kennedy issued a challenge, and made a commitment, to America to “land a man on the moon and return him safely to Earth.”
The challenge was immense - some thought impossible. Thousands of engineering processes were required, many had not been invented, and the human and financial cost was inestimable.
President Kennedy did not live to see it, but his challenge was met.
Forty-six years ago, on July 20, 1969 Apollo 11's lunar lander set upon the surface of the moon. Several hours later, on July 21, two men walked on the surface of the moon, while another remained in lunar orbit. A few days later, all three of them returned safely to Earth.
“One small step for man, a giant leap for mankind...” - Neil Armstrong
The Apollo space program was one of the costliest human endeavors. Was it worth it?
The Apollo mission was motivated, in part, by political and military threats along with the primordial yearning to explore the unknown.
There are some, perhaps many, who ask, “Was it worth the cost?” I answer, “yes.” The benefits of stepping out of our comfort zone, of flying high, were worth the cost.
Many of the benefits derived from Apollo, as with the challenge, are immeasurable. However, numerous benefits are quite tangible. Inventions including: memory foam, scratch-resistant glass and plastics, communication satellites, freeze-dried foods - including astronaut ice-cream, solar panels, ear thermometers, shoe in-soles, heart bypass surgery and valves, dust-buster vacuums, cochlear implants, articulated prosthetic limbs, anti-icing for aircraft, and others derive directly from the NASA space program - over 6,000 unique patents thus far.
The commercial value of Apollo innovation and invention has an enormous positive ROI (return-on-investment) compared with the financial cost of the program. On this basis alone the “race to the moon” has been a windfall.
Reaching the moon has yielded demonstrable benefits to health, welfare and quality of life. And, equal in importance, are unquantifiable benefits; the sense of pride and accomplishment of the hundreds of thousands of people who directly, and indirectly, worked on the program, from scientists and test pilots to the seamstress who created the embroidered Apollo 11 patches. They participated in sending mankind higher than we had ever traveled before, or have traveled since. They helped us to touch the sky.
With footprints on the moon, the sky is no longer the limit..." - Paul Brandt
Great companies and great managers do not fear flying.
Liftoff is difficult. Altitude requires overcoming the gravitational pull of the past in favor of the wondrous and uncertain draw of the future.
(c) David J. Katz, New York City