Reaching for the stars and diving into the depths

Isn't modern technology amazing?

We can connect with people across the world through the Internet. We can call our aunt while driving down the street. We can send mail to each other without leaving the house. Our cars can diagnose themselves and tell us when we need to take them in for service.

Computers are no longer the size of a large building. Phones are the size of a deck of cards and fit in our pockets. There are devices nowadays that will keep track of all our appointments, surf the Internet, play live TV and call Uncle Joe in North Carolina.

It's amazing. But what amazes me more than all the modern day technological gadgets is man's trip to the moon. I recently picked up a DVD copy of HBO's "From Earth to the Moon" miniseries. The series is based on a book by Andrew Chaikin called "A Man on the Moon."

Chaikin's book details the events, trials and tribulations that the astronauts and NASA had to go through during the Apollo moon missions. The book has much more detail about the missions, but the miniseries, which is directed by Tom Hanks, really brings the Apollo missions to life, especially to someone who wasn't even born yet.

But what impressed me most wasn't the DVD's special effects or the acting. It was the story.

The fact that men using nothing more than long division, slide rules, chemistry, the laws of physics and computers the size of a small house built a spaceship that flew a man to the moon and let him land on it. And it worked! Now that's amazing!

Technology is a tool. While it has opened a number of doors to exploration and made our lives easier, it has also made us lazy. Today we use it to make video games, cell phones, personal scheduling devices, computers that let us shop online and remote controls so we don't have to get up off the couch.

I doubt that kids nowadays even know how to do a long division problem, multiply, add, subtract or do algebra without a calculator. Actually, I have to admit that I often have a hard time doing basic math without a calculator.

But technology can do so much more than make our lives comfortable. It can help us explore the depths of the oceans and the outer reaches of space, feed the hungry, help the needy, create new medicines and medical equipment.

It can't solve any of these problems. The poor will always be with us. There will always be areas where technology will not be able to go and diseases it won't be able to fix.

I just happen to think that the exploration of Mars or the creation of a new hybrid of wheat to feed the poor is a better use of technology than another Internet surfing/digital camera/cell phone that lets my editor call me at midnight in order to ask me a question about one of my stories.

I could care less about the latest video game system. I want to know, could we land a man on Mars, will we be able to set up a habitat on the Moon, what's at the bottom of the ocean, how do we make cars that don't run on gasoline, can we create a way to feed the hungry and cure AIDS. Where else can technology take us?

But it's too expensive. There are better ways to use government or private monies. After all, the Apollo missions cost the government $25.4 billion in the 1960s. That's equal to about $135 billion today, according to Wikipedia.

Most of the work has already been done. We already have computers that are smaller, lighter and faster than anything that brought man to the Moon. We have computers that can design new exploration craft, calculate fuel needs, fly unmanned drones and do a number of other things.

So why not just send another unmanned machine to Mars.

One of the astronauts in the series said something to the effect of "man will never really know what the moon is really like until he actually sets foot on it."

The Apollo project also employed over 400,000 people and 20,000 universities and private firms. How many would be employed in a manned mission to the bottom of the ocean or to Mars?

The United States has some of the best universities and colleges in the world. People from all over the world come here to study the different sciences and create new technologies.

In the early 1960s, men used technology to aim for the moon. Now let's shoot for the stars and dive to the bottom of the sea.