Moon landing anniversary: NASA's Apollo 11 is proof climate change can be tackled

landed on the Moon on July 20, 1969, with less computing power than the average smartphone today. The monumental achievement came at the height of the Cold War and sealed America’s victory over the Soviet Union in the Space Race. And yet, despite a fierce sense of competition between the West and the East, Apollo 11 flew to the Moon in the name of all humanity. A commemorative plaque left on the surface of the Moon reads: “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon, July 1969 AD. We came in peace for all mankind.”

The Apollo programme also kindled and helped foster a strong sense of purpose and unity among the 400,000 people who made the Moon landing a possibility.

Because of this cooperative spirit 50 years ago, Professor Oliver Gassmann from the University of St Gallen in Switzerland believes modern climate challenges can be successfully faced.

Speaking to, Professor Gassmann, who teaches Technology Management at St Gallen, said he is not a “pathological optimist or a dreamer”.

But he likes to think generations of young people can change the world for the better if their ambitions are properly applied.


Moon landing anniversary: Apollo 11 on the Moon

Moon landing anniversary: The spirit of Apollo 11 can overcome climate change today (Image: NASA)

Moon landing anniversary: The Earth from the Moon

Moon landing: Our beautiful planet as seen by the crew of Apollo 11 (Image: NASA)

Professor Gassmann said: “How would we tackle similar big challenges? Because I would say the climate challenge today is a comparable situation.

I would say the climate challenge today is a comparable situation

Professor Oliver Gassmann, University of St Gallen

“If you take our technology today and our abilities today and consider the situation of 1961 when Kennedy proposed the Apollo programme, I think we should reflect a bit on what we would actually need.”

What is needed, Professor Gassman argued, is a combination of tough leadership, egocentricity and an alignment of the best minds the world has to offer.

But the expert also believes none of this will amount to anything if the discourse surrounding  will focus purely on the negative effects of the crisis.


When President John F Kennedy envisioned landing a man on the Moon in 1961, his natural charisma swayed a nation towards his goal.

The Moon landing bolstered a sense of national pride and solidarity and touched people all around the globe.

An estimated 600 million people around the globe watched the Moon landing live on their TV sets, proving people can be united around a common goal.

And Professor Gassmann said this happened in a world without the instant connectivity of smartphones, email and the internet.


Moon landing timeline: Apollo 11 on the Moon

Moon landing timeline: Apollo 11 landed on the Moon on July 20, 1969 (Image: GETTY)

He said: “If you think back to that time, there was no Skype, there was not even a real telephone conference call that worked on a solid basis, there was no email exchange.”

Climate watchdogs have warned the Earth is undergoing a climate crisis, exacerbated by manmade emissions of greenhouse gases.

There are currently 195 signatories to the Paris Climate Agreement, aimed to reduce greenhouse emissions and slow down the rate of global warming.

The international convention wants to limit global warming from going beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius.

So there already is some collective effort from the world to tackle climate change but are we doing enough?

Professor Gassmann said: “Society is not aware of the external effects of our living styles. Look at France. Macron is trying a little bit but society is not following him.

“So, it’s not just a question of leadership, I think it’s a question of are we ready to do this big common dream.

“A dream is always better, and we know this from brain research, if we have a positive reason to mobilise the energy of any kind of group, or organisation or society.

Moon landing anniversary: Apollo 11 on the Moon

Moon landing anniversary: Neil Armstrong was the first man on the Moon (Image: GETTY)

Moon landing anniversary: Apollo 11 on the Moon

Moon landing anniversary: The right leadership and common goal is needed to fight climate change (Image: NASA)

“Climate change shows the negative impact of what happens if you don’t move anything.”

Instead, Professor Gassmann thinks leadership need to unite people around the positives of fighting climate change.

Much in the same way, he said, President Kennedy focused his lunar ambitions on the positive aspects of sending astronauts to the Moon.

He said: “Looking back from that perspective today and translating that today would mean the community of alliance of the largest countries in the world getting together to tackle a challenge.”


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