Where Were You 40 Years Ago Today?

I was on the couch in our living room with my family, watching the grainy image of Neil Armstrong descending the ladder of the The Eagle lunar lander, listening to the intermittent comments he made before that famous “one small step for man …” quote. I remember my father was home early from work, marking the momentous nature of the occasion. We were among half a billion people worldwide watching with rapt attention mankind’s first steps on the moon.

And if you’re old enough to relate, you officially qualify as an Old Phart, like me. I was 14, at the time. It was one of those iconic moments that defined who were were as a country. Amid news of the Vietnam War, conflict over civil rights and the 1968 assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy – eerily recalling John F. Kennedy’s death in 1963 – the lunar landing was poignant and inspiring. It made me believe, for the longest time, that anything was possible.

I found these passages from a recent Associated Press article particularly right on:

“What put man on the moon 40 years ago was an audacious and public effort that the world hasn’t seen before or since. It required rocketry that hadn’t been built, or even designed, in 1961 when President John F. Kennedy declared the challenge. It needed an advance in computerization that had not happened yet. …

In another speech, Kennedy famously said America would go to the moon and try other tasks ‘not because they were easy, but because they were hard. Because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills.‘ (emphasis mine, CTH)

They weren’t just skills with rockets and slide rules. Bringing together countless aerospace companies, engineers, scientists, technicians, politicians and several NASA centers around the nation was a management challenge even more impressive than building the right type of rockets, said Smithsonian Institution space scholar Roger Launius.”

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And from the same article:

“Historian Douglas Brinkley called the Apollo program “the exemplary moment of America’s we-can-do-anything attitude.” After the moon landing, America got soft, he said, looking for the quick payoff of a lottery ticket instead of the sweat-equity of buckling down and doing something hard.”

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My thoughts: If we’ve gotten soft, the recession will probably take care of that. As a nation, by necessity, we’re getting leaner, more focused. In some ways, we’re pulling together, but will we ever be that bold again? And should we even bother?

An article in USA Today related to the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, explores the pros and cons of returning humans to the moon. Obviously one of the biggest arguments against such a mission is money. According to the article, the Obama administration will likely slash NASA’s budget in 2010. Given the recession, the nation has other more pressing priorities than manned space flight, critics say.

“Many space historians and even NASA veterans agree that the glory days of Apollo — which spawned countless songs, movies and books — can’t be recaptured. Gone is the vast budget for building spaceships. Gone is the Cold War with the Soviet Union, which unified the nation and lent urgency to the effort to put an American on the moon.”

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Some say a manned mission to the moon would not yield enough scientific information to justify the billions a single flight would likely cost. Others, including Apollo 11 astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, say NASA should focus on Mars instead.

My question: Is it worth undertaking a revival of manned moon flights not only for what could be learned about the universe, but as an exercise that could, in JFK’s words, “serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills?”

You tell me. Take the poll on this blog’s home page.

Thanks for your thoughts.

P.S. What does this have to do with South Kitsap? OK, you’ve got me there.

10 thoughts on “Where Were You 40 Years Ago Today?

  1. I lived in Seattle on Ravenna in 1969, my brother lived across the street. He was very excited about the landing and said he would have called his 5th grade teacher if she was still living. She had written a very stern letter to our parents about a story he wrote complete with drawing about a man on the moon in 1954. Her comment was he was a day dreamer and wouldn’t about too much and she felt very sorry for them as his parents. When he was even younger he had asked our mother how they had blasted off when she was a kid if she didn’t know how to count down!!!

    He completed many years as an areospace Engineer with Boeing and was one of the first students to go straight to the UW from NK. I worked on Apollo-Saturn rocket landing gears as a micro-welder! We have a cousin that is a astronaut!

  2. I was in Lafayette, Indiana, where my father was attending Purdue University. My mother, brothers, and I were watching the black and white TV. At the time, for all we understood, the astronauts might well have been walking in the desert. We didn’t appreciate the significance of it that day.

    40 years later, I’m glad Mom made us sit down for a few minutes to watch history.

    My generation has been privileged and a little spoiled growing up in an age of technological wonder. From black and white TV to iphones. What a wonderous journey. What will the world be like 40 more years along the journey?

    Kathryn Simpson

  3. In answer to what we should do next… I agree with Aldrin… Mission to Mars. Then the rest of the solar system. Then beyond. Exploration grows hopes and aspirations of what is new and exciting “just around the river bend”. Exploration drives innovation.

    Kathryn Simpson

  4. I missed it. I was only approximately 8 weeks into my gestational process.

    Just this last November we were down in Florida visiting family and timed it just right so that we were able to witness the last scheduled night time Shuttle launch on November 14th, 2008. Absolutely amazing is all I can say. My 8 year old son will remember that moment for the rest of his life. The next day we did go to Kennedy Space Center. What a wonderful facility with so much history on display. One day was simply not enough to take it all in.

  5. I was in Bindlach/Bayreuth Germany living in an apartment building on a US Army base. Not all of us had a TV so we gathered in front of ours and watched, in black and white, the Lunar landing on the Armed Forces Network,

  6. I was in the UK, presumably wreaking havoc on unsuspecting victims. We enjoyed the event courtesy of the BBC. I have also had the pleasure of getting to know all three astronauts.

    Money should always be found for projects and explorations of this nature.

  7. Wait! I am not sure what to address. The question of how you wrecked havoc on unsuspecting victims or the fact that you got to meet all three astronauts? Please tell, the stories sound fascinating….

  8. On the havoc bit, I was merely being cheeky given the reputations we sometimes get in these parts, deserved or otherwise. I’m sure you know what I mean ;-). I’m told I was an intense child but generally harmless. Generally…

    As for the other part, Armstrong was affiliated with some companies we represented. I’ve also encountered him on the speaking and D.C. circuits. Similar with Buzz and Collins though we never represented them.

  9. When watching the anniversary special, where the astronauts spoke, I was amazed at the brilliance on stage. A good friend mentioned that they were known as absolutely brilliant, miles above the rest of us. I suspect they had big plans for the future of space exploration, but we seemed to languish in this area as a nation. Maybe without the Soviet threat, we didn’t have the impetus.

  10. Indeed they are bright men – Buzz particularly so. I’ve encountered so much brilliance since childhood that the cachet (or awe) never really had a chance to set in. It did create high expectations. Still, one can’t help but be excited about new discoveries and innovation like Apollo 11.

    Long live human potential…

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