‘It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, very small,’
In December of 1903, the Wright Brothers flew at Kitty Hawk. History says they were the first, although that is a story for another day.
It was only 66 years later after that first short flight, the man shook off the shackles of gravity and atmosphere transverse the great vacuum and void of space, walked on the surface of the moon and then returned, splashing down safely in the warm waters of the Pacific.
We take for granted now, the achievements of the past. Man has walked on the moon. We did it until we got bored and stopped doing it anymore.
But it’s easy to forget that the moon landing was only the final achievement in a massive, expensive endeavor that began in earnest in 1961 when President John F. Kennedy essentially issued a national challenge.
Kennedy’s challenge was more than the imaginings of a starry-eyed dreamer. It was the cold, calculated maneuver of a president moving the goalposts. America had been soundly defeated in the first leg of the space race by its Cold War adversaries in the Soviet Union.
By making a new goal, Kennedy reduced the relevancy of the Russians wins and focused the country away from America’s failure.
“We choose to go to the moon,” the president said. “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”
The advances in technology, in math, that took place in the 8 years between Kennedy’s speech and Apollo 11 are vast. It is almost beyond comprehension how far and how fast NASA flew.
It came at a high cost, both in dollars and lives lost, three astronauts died in training, another two while flying on NASA related business.
To many, the moon mission seemed a fool’s errand, a waste of money and ultimately of people.
“Keep in mind that progress is not always linear,” Aldrin said. “It takes constant course correcting and often a lot of zigzagging. Unfortunate things happen, accidents occur, and setbacks are usually painful, but that does not mean we quit.”
The Apollo 11 launched on July 16 and on July 20, the lander known as Eagle, touched down on the surface of the moon.
It was technically July 21 when Neil Armstrong took his giant leap for mankind, followed shortly after by Buzz Aldrin.
While the two were on the surface, Michael Collins orbited the moon in the command module.
Aldrin and Armstrong spent a total of 21 hours and 36 minutes on the moon’s surface before lifting back off and connecting with the command module for the ride home.
“There are great ideas undiscovered, breakthroughs available to those who can remove one of truth’s protective layers. There are places to go beyond belief,” Armstrong said.
On July 24, the crew splashed down in the Pacific, completing a historic 8-day journey that captured the attention of the world.
The three astronauts were celebrated as heroes with ticker-tape parades in New York and Chicago. Each were awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and embarked on a 38-day world tour that reached 22 foreign countries.
For his part, Collins said the world could benefit from taking a higher level view.
“I really believe that if the political leaders of the world could see their planet from a distance of, let’s say 100,000 miles, their outlook would be fundamentally changed,” he said. “The all-important border would be invisible, that noisy argument suddenly silenced.”