Americans are looking back with some sort of fondness at an event that occurred 50 years ago.
Yes, we won that race to the moon. Two American astronauts landed on the lunar surface on July 20, 1969. Neil Armstrong stepped off the lander’s ladder and declared that he was taking “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
For years I had thought that Armstrong’s transmission got garbled somehow, that he really did say it was one “small step for a man.” Alas, that was mistaken … apparently. Armstrong flubbed the line, or so I learned.
President Kennedy had laid down the marker in 1961. He declared that we should get to the moon by the end of the 1960s. The president rallied the nation to his dream. He ventured to Houston and said that “we don’t do these things because they are easy. We do them because they are hard.”
And so the race was on.
Hey, we had a geopolitical adversary that had rubbed our noses in it. The Soviet Union launched the first satellite. The USSR put the first man into space.
Meanwhile, as the nation’s prepared to launch humans into space, we couldn’t get a rocket off the pad. They were exploding. Our national psyche suffered.
But we got into space. We put two men into sub-orbital flight. We finally put a man into orbit with John Glenn’s historic three-orbit flight in February 1962.
President Kennedy, of course, didn’t live to see his dream come true. Still, the mission proceeded at full throttle.
The Apollo 11 mission was the culmination of a national task. The world held its breath. Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin left indelible prints on the dusty lunar surface. Those boot prints remain there to this day. There would be others, too.
Over the span of time our manned missions dissipated and all but disappeared. The Soviet Union vanished from Earth in 1991. Russian rockets are taking Americans into space these days. I wonder what President Kennedy would think of that development.
I suppose you could say that the Apollo 11 mission was the beginning of our exploration of another celestial body. It actually was the beginning of the end of our grand adventure.
However, I do hope we get back into space. Human beings need to explore. We are built and wired to do great things.
A half-century ago we cheered the heroism of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, the third astronaut who orbited the moon while waiting for his shipmates to return. These men exemplified a can-do spirit that I am missing today.
I hope we can find it … and soon.