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Dream On

17 July 2019

50 years since the first lunar landing and still reaching for the sky

Guy Wakeley, Equiniti's Group CEO, discusses ambition and inventiveness; considering how these are mission critical for business and humankind alike.

Q: You are too young to remember the moon landing, do you remember looking at the moon as a child?

A: I was born one year after the moon landing, but Armstrong’s achievement was recent history when I was at school. In the post-war years there was huge progression in air travel, electronics and navigation, and space travel. Ultimately the moon landings were the culmination of all of these programmes coming together to create a truly amazing achievement

Q: Do you have an interest in space?

A: The thought of the universe far and beyond the confines of Earth is truly fascinating.  The concept of the infinite is a challenge to comprehend, but I’m intrigued to know what lies beyond our own solar system, and whether an hospitable earth-like planet could ever be within reach.

Q: Looking back, do you think our ambition propelled us to the moon more than our technical ability?

A: The moon landings were about ambition, pride and political will.  They were a technical triumph without doubt, but the driving force was President Kennedy’s overarching ambition to reassert technical supremacy over Khrushchev's Soviet Union.  So the achievement was remarkable from a technical perspective, but the victory was a political one.

Q: How important do you think the moon landings have been to humankind?

A: I think that a race that can put a man on the moon can achieve literally anything.  In the 1960s many would have watched in wonder as Armstrong took those first small steps for man. 

The giant leap for mankind was the realisation that so many of nature’s challenges were henceforth solvable.  Now, when we think of nano-technology, microelectronics, stem-cell engineering and nuclear physics, nothing can be quite so awesome as that first landing!

Q: What can we learn as individuals from the first intrepid spacemen?

A: Simply that anything is possible, if enough people will it to be.  Armstrong and Aldrin were the frontier force in an extraordinary endeavour, and had the whole force of western society propelling them to their achievement.

Q: Do you believe that we did indeed land on the moon or do you believe it was a conspiracy theory?

A: I am convinced it happened, of course it did!

Q: If we were to land on the moon for the first time today, how different might it be to back in the 60’s?

A: My fear is that today we would conclude that it was too dangerous, too expensive or too difficult.  In the 1960’s it was a pure political win and the strength of the US economy that powered the genius of the engineers and scientists.

Today I wonder if our politicians dare to dream about such lofty achievements, and I am certain that if they did we could find solutions to global warming, climate change, and energy crises.

Q: How do you think the moon landings and the international space projects influence business, if at all? 

A: There are huge amounts of technical output from the NASA programmes that continue to benefit society at large, and the demands of the space environment required huge inventiveness to make things work.  Inventions that we continue to enjoy include rollerball pens, freeze dried food, and memory foam mattresses!

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Q: Guy, you fly an aeroplane, have you ever dreamed of flying a space rocket?

A: Honestly no, I’m quite happy within the atmosphere rather than above it.  But I am fascinated with all aspects of flight, and have huge admiration for the pioneering aviators of 100 years ago who made those first flights over the Atlantic, and rapidly led to the pioneering origins of the transatlantic services we enjoy today.  Those men and women – both British and American – were true adventurers driven by courage and ambition.

Q: If Richard Branson’s space initiative took off, would you sign-up for a trip to space?

A: Yes, you know I really would like to do that, but I think I’d want to wait until the price came down a bit, or until you could do it with air-miles!  I think that space tourism really will happen though.

Q: With a background in engineering, do you marvel at the engineering feat of the space shuttle?

A: The physics of space travel – and indeed jet travel are thoroughly remarkable. Rocket propulsion requires engine parts to operate at temperatures way beyond their melting point, and alloy structures to have to endure the absolute cold of space as well as the high temperatures caused by friction at re-entry speeds.

To make one component work in isolation is a real feat, to make a whole space craft work as a dynamic system is genuinely amazing.

Q: Do you have a favourite space film. And if so, what is it and why?

A: The best space series is undoubtedly Star-Trek, with a great mix of cinematic drama and dodgy physics. Phrases such as warp-speed, di-lithium crystals, and illogical captain are now part of everyday speech!  And the best of the series is definitely Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan from 1981.

Q: Are there any other space programmes that you are following?

A: The Indian Space Research Organisation is literally amazing, and has a current plan to send a lunar orbiter and lander to the moon.  This program is driven by intellect and inventiveness, and despite very modest budgets has now launched more than 50 rockets. I think I read that the first Indian rocket was developed for five million dollars!

This Q&A with Guy is in conjunction with a colleague Instagram story 'Behind The Moon'; celebrating our mission-critical moments and staff at Equiniti. Check out our Instagram page here.