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The 50th anniversary of the first visit by humans to the moon was unabashadly celebrated by many Americans.

Crowds gathered to mark the occasion. President Trump announced plans to return Americans to the moon, then proceed to Mars. PBS scheduled an entire summer of space programming.

Apollo 11 was celebrated as a scientific milestone, although coverage also correctly pointed out the importance of Cold War optics in driving the project.

Even at the time, though, many scientists were skeptical that human moonwalkers could significantly improve on experiments that could as well be done by unmanned flights. Indeed, the U.S. stopped sending people to the moon only three years later, in 1972.

TV audiences had dwindled, according to John Logsdon, a space policy expert at George Washington University. NASA decided any benefit was outweighed by the missions’ risks.

One of the worst rationales offered for putting humans on the moon was to explore escape routes from a planet made uninhabitable by global warming, a threat becoming more clear in the 1960s and ’70s.

This is a threat we need to solve on Planet Earth.

The moon shots took a huge financial and organizational commitment from government and the American people.

We need to make a similar commitment now to address the existential threat of global warming, which will impact the most vulnerable first. I’m grateful to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee for making global warming the centerpiece of his presidential campaign. Please listen to what he has to say.

JOHN PALEN

Urbana

News-Gazette