Neil Armstrong  first man on the moon 1930-2012 

Do you think sending a man to the moon was a waste of money? Couldn’t it have been spent better by helping the poor?

The recent death of Neil Armstrong reminded me of the above common interview question asked at medical school interviews. At the height of the space race NASA was spending 4.5% of   the American government’s budget. It was an example of a seemingly vain, pointless mission in order to outdo the Russians and show that capitalism was superior to communism. Countless lives of poor people around the world could have been saved instead with the money.

However the quest to push forward the frontiers of human knowledge to understand more – knowledge for knowledge’s sake is important. That pursuit may seem pointless and successive governments have tried to insist that more research is focused on producing products that sell – however one does not know where research may lead. When I was young we all thought space travel would be commonplace by the year 2000. We were wrong, disappointed in this respect but research for the space programme led to satellite technology, mobile phones, the use of NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance) in medicine and was even important to the development of the internet.   A waste of money – never!

Like this year’s Olympics, such projects also inspire and imbue people with a can do attitude. Priceless!