The Apollo 11 moon landing and the missions that followed it are sometimes hailed as mankind’s greatest achievement. The lunar landing took men beyond the bounds of our Terran existence, rendering science fiction imaginings of visiting other worlds plausible for the first time.

There have been other space triumphs since – enabling people to live on the International Space Station for example is technically far more impressive, but psychologically not so important a landmark as 1969’s Apollo 11 mission.

There are rival breakthroughs. In terms of significance the mastery of fire or the invention of the wheel could be cited as having much more practical and far-reaching effects on human development. Electricity, writing and the printing press, sanitation, the eradication of smallpox, the contraceptive pill, none of these can be discounted.

In truth, there was very little direct benefit in scientific terms from the moon landings. Two widely cited examples, Teflon and Velcro were both inventions which Nasa made use of but they were not designed specifically for space missions and would exist without them.

But in terms of changing our perception of ourselves, inspiring generations of explorers and scientists, in terms of encouraging those who dream big and treat setbacks as challenges rather than barriers, proving that we could reach the moon changed the consciousness of our species. It was the ultimate realisation of our instinct to explore map and understand our surroundings.

At the time, in the 1960s there was a sense that humans had reached all corners of the Earth, conquering the highest peaks, penetrating the remotest jungles. It could be argued this was never true, given that of the two-thirds of our planet which is covered by water, much is still unexplored.

But it is still space-flight that grips the imagination, and there is more to come. Near space travel is increasingly becoming a commercial proposition.

Scotland is home to the headquarters of 83 space industry firms, and will house, in Sutherland, the UK’s first space port within just a few years. The Scottish Government innovations minister Ivan McKee expects our space sector to be worth £4 billion by 2030.

Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic claims to be close to launching a regular commercial spaceflight service for scientists and paying customers. (The company’s chief pilot, Dave Mackay, is a Scot).

Meanwhile NASA’s plans to return to the moon in 2024 have rather been thrown into confusion by Donald Trump who undermined White House backing of that goal last month when he tweeted that Mars should be the goal instead: “NASA should NOT be talking about going to the Moon - We did that 50 years ago!”

In truth only a mission to Mars could match the moon landings for their perspective-altering species-wide psychological impact. In scientific terms such a trip could be far more significant than Apollo 11.

There are major caveats, however. In the 1960s in the face of poverty and social unrest the vastly expensive moon project had far from universal backing. The LA Times for example wrote of the folly of spending billions of dollars “while people are hungry, ill-clothed, poorly educated (if at all)”. Gill Scott-Heron’s song “Whitey on the Moon” contrasted the black experience of squalor and poor healthcare with Nasa’s extravagance. Putting people on Mars - would be orders of magnitude more expensive.

More important still is the climate crisis facing our world. Addressing the implications of global warming, whether by decarbonisation or by some form of geotechnical climate engineering, is likely to involve almost unimaginable levels of expense. Against that backdrop, funding a Mars mission may become unthinkable.

And so, for the moment it should be. After all, what purpose does it serve to reach other planets if we can’t get our act together to save our own?