There is a story that once someone intent upon learning how mountains fascinate a mountaineer, asked one of the tribe why he could find no rest till he had conquered a virgin peak The latter replied, “Because it is there.” This might have been of very little help to the questioner in unraveling the mystery he sought to resolve, but what the mountaineer had to say did express the essence of the spirit of adventure, which consists in spontaneously accepting the challenge of the unknown and the impossible.
As someone has very aptly put it, the life of an adventurer is the practice of the art of the impossible.
Ever since human life came into existence on this earth, the unknown has in general exercised two types of influence on men’s minds. Either it has struck fear into their hearts or it has irresistibly drawn them towards itself. It is from among the ranks of the latter type of the people that the world has found its explorers, inventors and others who have led the way in various fields of human endeavor.
Among them have been the rebels who refused to accept set beliefs and dared to think and act in a manner different from that to which the common mass is accustomed, even though it brought upon them the sneers and ridicule of their fellowmen. In this illustrious company we find men like Socrates and Galileo.
Among them were also the waifs, strays and runaways who sought fulfillment in exploring the unknown. In this list, we find names like Marco Polo, Columbus, Captain Cook, David Livingstone, Amundsen and Col Lindbergh. They left the world in a better and more well-informed state than they had found it.
The lonely trail each one of such people blazed in his particular sphere of interest gradually became a much-trodden and well-beaten path, and the world has felt thankful for the pioneering zeal and indomitable spirit with which they were imbued. It is that spirit which has been steadily advancing the frontiers of human knowledge and making it possible for men everywhere to lead happier and fuller lives than they would have done otherwise.
There can be no doubt that the indomitable spirit, which was at work in the instances cited above, is part of man’s natural heritage. But it has also been fostered and strengthened to a considerable extent by the rigors of the long and hard struggle man’s primitive ancestors had to wage against cruel and unyielding nature to subdue it and to make it sub serve the purposes of human life.
Today, we do not even blink our eyes when we come across what might have been acclaimed as revolutionary inventions and discoveries in their times, e.g., the discovery of the first method of lighting a fire. We can imagine a time when, like other animals of the wild, our forefathers were afraid of the huge forest fires, which broke out from time to time.
The fear was removed and fire put to use for cooking food and giving warmth only after some brave person had tamed it and shown others how to do it. It was the spirit of adventure, which moved him to accept the challenge, to undertake the task and to complete it. Similar in inspiration were the invention of agriculture, and the devising a wheel.
Since then, we have come a long way in the history of human endeavor but all this while human nature has undergone very little change. Even today man is as willing even anxious to accept the challenge of the unknown as his primitive ancestor might have been. He has already come a long way but there is no knowing where he is going to stop.
Over the centuries, he has grown wings and today he is busy trying those wings to conquer the vast universe. In the twentieth century, he has set himself the aim of the conquest of space. He wants to acquire the capability of commuting freely between the planets revolving in space.
In the annals of science, the conquest of space may not be as significant as the taming of fire, the invention of the wheel or the discovery of atomic energy. Yet, it is something awe-inspiring and exhilarating.
Man’s success in landing on the moon was widely compared to the discovery of the New World by Columbus. In undertaking the mission, man was once again defying nature and daring against dangerous odds. Propelled by the same instincts, which have led him from the cave to the skyscraper, he was once again attacking the impregnable in his lonely search for knowledge. It was a cast challenge, which shook the whole world.
While the conquest of the moon was in the offing, although the limelight was on the astronauts manning the space ships, yet the ultimate glory was not theirs alone. It equally belonged to others who had risked their lives in the quest. In an equal measure, it also belonged to men like Euclid, Archimedes, Copernicus, Kepler, Newton, Tsilkovsky, Oberth and many others who had blazed the trail with ideas and experiments which made the feat possible.
And in the ultimate analysis, it was a victory for the whole human race another triumph of the indomitable spirit of man. It was a tremendous uplift for that spirit, bidding it yet “to seek a newer world, to sail beyond the sunset, and the paths of the western stars” with Tennyson’s Ulysses.
Man’s conquest of the moon was something much more than a reconnaissance of the heavens. It was a journey into man’s future into a new age, which may well reshape man’s mind and his destiny. As first space-men to approach the moon roamed the heavens, and caught a glimpse of the brown, blue and white sphere on which we are all riding together, men all over the world experienced a strong sense of brotherhood.
They shared feelings of concern for the safety of the brave men, and experienced as one the wonder and warmth of achievement, and a soul- binding and hear-stirring pride in being men belonging to a species in which the spirit of adventure has lived and will live forever.
The name of Neil Armstrong as the first man to set foot on the lunar surface has already passed into history. But the sights of human ambition are already set higher. It is being said that within the predictable future, man will indeed he heading for other planets. He is already conjuring up visions of visiting other stars and exploring the Milky Way. Speculation is rife about much longer journeys in space with the help of a photon rocket flying at the speed of light and bringing time to a standstill.
All this today boggles the imagination but as has happened in the past, the indomitable spirit of man will translate today’s fiction into tomorrow’s fact.
The list of conquests made by man is impressive indeed. But his biggest conquest is yet to come. The day he will score that supreme victory is drawing nearer as he realizes more and more that in the awe-inspiring, lonely, hostile night of space, we of the earth are brothers in the real sense, and the fierce dissensions which divide, terrorize and confuse us are really childish.
He has very nearly subdued nature with courage and determination. His ultimate triumph will come when he accepts the challenge posed by the task of establishing real brotherhood of man and brings to bear on the task the same courage, and the same determination, which have helped him overcome the barriers of time and space.
The greatest unknown that beckons to him and the greatest challenge to the spirit of adventure inherent in him is presented by his own self and he will have fulfilled his greatest promise when he has achieved mastery over himself.