27/08/2012 20:13 BST | Updated 27/10/2012 06:12 BST

The End of All Our Exploring

As a kid I remember the excitement of the moon landings. They created a sense that everything was possible: that new worlds were waiting to be discovered, and we could be part of them.

The death of Neil Armstrong on Saturday brought back those memories. Technology was great, and would one day do everything we demanded of it. Boys everywhere sat in their bedrooms glueing together Airfix lunar modules and dreaming of space missions.

If the moon landings were awesome, we know we have more computing power now in our mobile phones. If the speed of Apollo 11 was stupendous, in the blink of an eye we can now send pictures around the world of a prince behaving like a plonker.

Our abilities have not diminished since we walked on the moon. We understand many things a lot better. We know how we can treat AIDS and end malaria. The internet has opened up learning to millions that used to be locked in ivory towers. We can gape in wonder at the species that throng our own planet.

Inevitably, some have taken the opportunity to call for a new age of space discovery. Perhaps, like the Olympic and Paralympic games, it could rekindle the flames of optimism and achievement, the sense that anything is possible.

That childlike excitement about new worlds and places to discover is part of what makes us human. Denying people the sense of possibility is to deny them much of their humanity.

But we deny those possibilities all the time. We create food systems that make huge profits for some while putting the basics beyond the reach of many others. We trap people in poverty and in miserable, poorly paid work. When we see the hungry and desperate, we tell them to get back where they came from. We rely on future generations to pick up the pieces because we can't decide what to do about climate change.

The poet T S Eliot famously wrote that the 'end of all our exploring/Will be to arrive where we started/And know the place for the first time.'

Neil Armstrong's family have asked us to 'honour his example of service, accomplishment and modesty'. What better way than to know our own place better, applying that sense of adventure and exploration to ensuring all have what they need, can do worthwhile work and can leave to future generations a planet that will sustain them and all its creatures?