My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, for giving me this opportunity to celebrate this momentous anniversary of human achievement. As Buzz Aldrin climbed the steps of the lunar landing module for the last time, Neil Armstrong reminded him of one item in his shoulder pocket that he was meant to leave behind. It was an ultra-microfiche inside an aluminium case inscribed simply “From Planet Earth”. He dropped it from the steps. The microfiche that floated slowly down to the moon’s surface contained goodwill messages from 73 world leaders, including Indira Gandhi, Pope Paul VI, Chiang Kai-shek, President Tito, Haile Selassie and the only surviving signatory, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to read these: they were optimistic in tone and had two great themes. The first was a desire for peace; and the other was the hope that this great human scientific advance may hold the key to improving life here on earth.
It is important to remember the context of 1969. We were at the height of the Cold War and the Vietnam War. It was a time of great power tensions, not unlike our own. Notwithstanding this division, the writers of those messages believed that the search of the heavens had the capacity to draw us closer together on earth. The moon and space were not a resource to be exploited but a frontier to be explored. The boundaries to be expanded were of human knowledge and understanding, not of nation states. This sentiment was captured in the lunar plaque for the Apollo 11, which remains on the surface of the moon and states:
“shall be carried out for the benefit and interests of all countries ... and shall be the province of all mankind”.
It may be that this momentous anniversary offers us an opportunity to revisit that treaty and reaffirm our commitment to its precepts. As we celebrate the Apollo 11 mission, we might pause and reflect what we may be in danger of leaving something behind: a belief that, whatever our differences, we are all human first and that we are privileged to share the most extraordinarily beautiful home in the known universe, which it falls to us in this generation to cherish and improve for the benefit of the next.