Ending the threat of pandemic disease. That’s a moonshot. Fighting climate change with new energy and industrial systems that reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rather than increase it. That’s a moonshot. Feeding the projected population of 10 billion people in 2050 without wrecking the planet. That’s a moonshot. Opening the way for people to live with longer healthspans — that is, longer proportions of their lifespans without arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, dementia, and other maladies of aging. That’s a moonshot.
President Kennedy introduced his call for the origial moonshot in an address to Congress in May 1961. The United States finally pulled off his vision off 50 years ago when the country landed astronauts on the moon on July 20, 1969, and then returned them to Earth safely four days later. The moonshot-caliber challenges you will read about in The Moonshot Catalog in the coming months share the seminal feature of that decades-old mission: they are daunting, but they are doable.
They are daunting in that each one requires a unique, creative, and sustained synthesis of science, engineering, entrepreneurship, collective will, and resources to pull off. They are doable in that researchers, innovators, entrepreneurs, governments, and other stakeholders have taken real initial steps toward the moonshots’ must-go destinations. Each moonshot that humanity can pull off will yield a world of good, both for the planet and for all of us. Each success will contribute to our sense of promise about the future and fight a corrosive sense of cynicism.
These challenges are at the heart of The Moonshot Catalog, a communications project funded by the philanthropic organization Schmidt Futures in collaboration with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). We want to highlight opportunities to:
- Set more ambitious goals: We want to highlight that recent scientific and technological advances may make it possible to “dream bigger.” What might have been impossible 5–10 years ago may now be within reach, allowing us to accelerate progress on some of our toughest challenges. By calling attention to these goals and the advances that make them possible, we hope to create positive, self-fulfilling prophecies.
- Build a moonshot culture: We want to call attention to opportunities for leaders in business, government, academia, and philanthropy to pursue these moonshots. The University of California, Los Angeles, has launched a research initiative to reduce the burden of depression by 50%. Bill Gates wants to eradicate polio. Yuri Milner hopes to send a spacecraft to another star. A small number of individuals and organizations also are pursuing ambitious goals. Imagine if we could create a “moonshot culture,” in which this level of ambition was the norm, not the exception.
- Join the conversation: We hope that you, our readers, will provide suggestions for additional moonshots, as well as alternative paths to achieving some of the goals that will be described in the catalog.
In addition to three feature articles about specific moonshots, this roll-out package of The Moonshot Catalog — during the week of 50th anniversary of the first moon landing — includes an article titled Fixing the World, which undermines an it’s-too-hard-to-do-anything attitude by chronicling moonshots humanity already has pulled off. The ozone hole, for example, posed a specter of existential threat in the 1970s, but in just a few decades, humanity has taken successful steps to restore the ozone layer. The eradication of small pox is another stellar demonstration of the daunting-and-doable dynamic. Another article in the rollout package, titled Philanthropy Lessons, relies on historical examples of science-centric philanthropy to encourage current or aspiring philanthropists who would consider making deep commitments to causes such as the moonshots featured in the catalog.
Every few weeks or so following the rollout, we will add another moonshot article or two to the catalog. We invite you to come back again and again to read these articles. We also invite you to engage us with your reactions to the articles and your own ideas for moonshots. You can contribute to the conversation by using the comments boxes at the end of each article.
Tom Kalil, Chief Innovation Officer, Schmidt Futures
Ivan Amato, Visiting Researcher, AAAS, and editor of The Moonshot Catalog