Putting a Man on the Moon was the Most Playful Thing Humans Have Ever Done

I recently watched the 2018 Universal Pictures film, First Man, about the Apollo 11 mission to the moon and all the hardships the team at NASA endured to make it happen. Whole thing smacks of play. The highest form of it, in fact.

Play is the act of reaching out, stretching the limits of our abilities, accepting risk and failure, and pressing ahead until the goal is at hand. The boys and girls at NASA, amidst the cheers and jeers of their curious and adventurous species, were climbing the tallest hill in town. When they got to the top, they would shout so the neighborhood bully a few steps down (the Soviets) could hear, “I’m the king of the castle and you’re the dirty rascal!”

In no way does this trivialize that achievement. Quite the contrary! The steps humanity took to get there drew on the child-like dreams humans forge during youth and keep throughout life. And so, they should.

Climbing that hill required us to reach many peaks along the way. We had to learn how to launch a heavy vessel that could escape the gravity of the earth and stay up there. We had to learn how to build a ship that could supply the necessities of life and protection from heat, cold and radiation such that the mission could be manned. We had to figure out how to function up there for weeks at a time, navigate and guide that vessel to and from points in space, and find out how to re-enter the earth’s atmosphere without disintegrating.  We had to discover how to build another vessel that could land on another celestial body with astronauts inside it and return them to the vessel in orbit. All of this required imagination, several billion dollars, and a hell of a lot of trying, failing, and trying again, like what kids do when they’re playing, but without the money.

We didn’t just spend money. We lost people along the way. A freak accident brought disaster on the first mission during a rehearsal. Apollo 1 and all the oxygen inside it went up when a cabin fire started on January 27, 1967. Astronauts, Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee perished. The movie, which addresses this fact with reverence and solemnity, gives us another chance to mourn them.

If that happened today, there would have been no Apollo 2 or any Apollos thereafter. Every year that has gone by, we have become less inclined to accept failures of that kind.  We don’t like losing money or people, which in most cases, is a good thing. Think about it: we had no practical reason to go to the moon. As far as we knew, it contained no useful resources, and even if it did, we couldn’t hope to extract them. We did it because we wanted to know if we could. That kind of thinking comes with losses.

Our leaders don’t inspire us much these days. They don’t say things like, “we won’t do it because it’s easy. We’ll do it because it’s hard.” Instead they talk about isolating ourselves from other races for our protection. They sculpt crises out of media blips and fuel paranoia. They don’t stretch out or explore. They hoard and hide.

The kind of thinking that wonders what’s possible, draws brain energy away from what reminds us we are not capable. Our limits will always be there.  It’s not failure we need. It’s willingness to continue in spite of it. That’s what kids do. Kids play, as could adults charged with moving us to the next great...movement.

Every time we discover something new in our environment, we discover new things about ourselves. I’m hoping that dark times bring us to the light. An Hour of Play, the world’s first provider of tools and resources for facilitating workplace play for adults, has launched at just the right moment, I think. Never has there been a better time to cultivate greater awareness of how we consciously push our businesses, our nations, our species forward, by imagining the possible once again.

If you want to know what I mean, message me.


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published