AS the Apollo 11 celebrations have recalled, American astronauts went to the Moon ``for all mankind.'' We should take that rhetoric seriously now that space planners again talk of moon bases and even of expeditions to Mars. Some tasks are just too big for any one nation - or small group of nations - to tackle.
Colonizing other worlds is such an undertaking. So too is the global environment monitoring-and-protection program the seven Western industrial nations endorsed at their recent economic summit.
These two monumental tasks are not as unrelated as they might seem to be.
Serious long-term exploration and settlement of the moon - let alone Mars - just does not make sense as a purely national goal. That may well be the underlying reason why neither the United States nor the Soviet Union has been able to commit itself to investing the hundreds of billions of dollars worth of resources needed for such an undertaking.
A moon base or Mars expedition makes more sense as a truly global enterprise in which many - if not all - nations participate. The resources needed make a much smaller demand on the global economy than on the economies of a single - albeit so-called ``rich'' - nation or of a small group of nations. Also, the expected payoffs make more sense as benefits for all mankind than as returns on strictly national investments.
Neil A. Armstrong, the first human to tread the moon, says, ``It's a fundamental thing to want to go, to touch, to see, to smell, to learn.'' He thinks that will impel people to move out into the solar system. He probably is right. But the urge to explore is a human urge - not a specifically American or Soviet urge. Satisfying that urge through manned space exploration and profiting from the knowledge gained are benefits that all humanity will inevitably share. So why should any nation take on such a costly task alone?
Likewise, commercial benefits of lunar settlement will be realized only as part of the industrialization of Earth's orbital space. It is cheaper to bring raw materials into Earth orbit from the moon than to boost them against Earth's stronger gravity. Here again, such industrialization will be an activity that involves the whole planet.
But if diverse nations are to surmount their differences and work together in complex space exploration, they must first learn to work together in complex activities on Earth. That's precisely the experience that action to protect the global environment will provide.
The economic summit communique emphasized the main points of such action. It stressed the need to curb air and ocean pollution on a world scale. It recognized that industrialized nations have to help developing countries as all nations face the challenges of transforming their economies in ways to protect the planet. And it endorsed the multinational research and monitoring effort now getting under way to find out what humans are doing to the environment. That effort includes land, sea, and air research in every country. It includes monitoring by space-based instruments.
If mankind can succeed in this great effort to protect the planet, it will know how to cooperate in space exploration.
As Wally Schirra, one of the original seven Mercury astronauts, remarked during a commemorative ceremony last month: ``We've definitely got to get concerned about Spaceship Earth. It's where we live.'' It may turn out that this is our most direct route into space.