COMMENT

Mars maybe, but Earth first.

Last Sunday's television ran hot with docos on the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon walk - and rightly so.

The whole Apollo programme was an astounding technological feat, but after half a century the magic had slipped into a bottom drawer.

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The docos vividly brought its raw awesomeness back to life.

Next morning, off to the letterbox pre-dawn for my copy of everyone's favourite paper, and right up above was – sure enough – the Moon. Wow.

There it was, hanging way, way up there in all its splendour. Yet even at that immense distance, Kilroy had been there, done that.

The moon's our celestial Toto, definitely not in Kansas, and faithfully tracking our every rotation.

Without it, being the namesakes they are, there'd be no Mondays, or even months. Post-weekend hangovers would be Tuesday-itis, calendars just a catalogue of 365 uninterrupted days, and how could we collect nga pipi without a moon-induced low tide?

Remarkable, too, was the realisation (the mind was uncannily alert this particular Moonday morning) that astronauts had made humankind's most momentous journey to a destination mostly always in sight.

Christopher Columbus set off to find an alternative route to India with only an horizon on the horizon.

Amundsen and his team mushed their huskies across Antarctic wastes to a South Pole unmarked by any actual pole.

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But the Moon had conveniently positioned itself for all potential moon-trippers to see - time of the month permitting.

As many remarked, the accomplishment uniquely bonded the disparate Earthling tribes – especially when reinforced by the spectacular photos of our fragile little iridescent pea of a globe floating in the immensity of space.

Messages left by Armstrong and Aldrin commendably reiterated their role as representatives of all humanity.

But, alas, baser motives were afoot. The goal of a manned Moon landing was announced by the then President, John F Kennedy.

An orator par excellence, his speechwriters concocted much suitably stirring rhetoric for the occasion.

Privately, though, Kennedy had little core interest in exploring space, readily admitting the primary aim was just to trump the uppity Soviets, hitherto the pace-setting rocket men.

Kennedy convinced Congress and the Senate to put taxpayers' money where his mouth was.

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Nearly half a million scientists, engineers, technicians and general employees were eventually involved in the Apollo programme – devouring about a quarter of a trillion US dollars in today's terms. It was like constructing a Panama Canal - to the Moon.

Yet just over three years after Apollo 11's triumph, the whole programme was unceremoniously shelved.

It really was a case of mission accomplished. Soviets successfully gazumped.

Indirect benefits nevertheless abounded: people everywhere genuinely rejoiced in the sheer accomplishment; it helped develop perspective about Earth's fragility in the infinity of space; it had many technological spin-offs, leading to the space shuttles, a permanent space station, and such.

But it also begs many questions. Yes, it was mega-money, but still only about a quarter of what US private contractors ransacked from Iraq following its fraudulent invasion.

And also only about a quarter of the estimated trillion dollars the mainly US financial industry extracted from the so-called Global Financial Crisis.

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Gee, what if money of that magnitude was poured into genuine pan-global initiatives to tackle goals as clearly articulated as the moon mission's - such as incentivising sustainable population control and neutralising global warming?

Especially given that as little as about a tenth of the annual US military budget would be enough to break the back of worldwide hunger alone.

The vainglorious rhetoric of Donald Trump is now helping crank up the Moon tune once again with the proposed Artemis project.

Does the astronomical cost of replicating the whole saga - even as precursor to a Mars mission - really replace facing the stark priorities here and now on a damaged and degraded space-station Earth?

Its rapacious inhabitants have already made it literally an existentialist struggle.