Growing up in the the 1960s, I followed the NASA space program like I followed my favorite baseball teams. I knew the names of the astronauts as well as the baseball players on my Topps trading cards. I had a collection of plastic models of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo spacecrafts, and of the lunar lander that I had built from model kits. It inspired a lifetime of interest in science.
I remember this day 50 years ago as if it was yesterday. My uncle Roy had purchased a new TV set just for the occasion and invited everyone over to his home for a barbecue and to watch the moon landing, a scene repeated in countless homes across America that hot July day.
I still recall the tension in Walter Cronkite’s voice as the lunar lander approached the surface of the moon. It had overshot its intended landing area and there was serious doubt whether there was enough fuel to put down without crashing on the surface. When the crew announced that the lunar lander had settled on the surface of the moon, Cronkite expressed a sigh of relief, as did the whole nation with him.
Then came what seemed like an interminable delay as the crew went through its preparations for exiting the lunar lander and walking on the moon. Remember, they really did not know what to expect on the lunar surface. The anticipation kept building as we waited and waited, following along with Walter Cronkite on the new TV.
Then the most highly anticipated moment of the decade finally arrived.
At 10:56 p.m. ET on July 20, 1969, the American astronaut Neil Armstrong put his left foot on the lunar surface and famously declared, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Everyone in my uncle’s home let out a loud cheer, as I am sure that countless other Americans did across the country, and around the world. Americans had landed on the moon, but as Neil Armstrong indicated, mankind celebrated in our achievement.
The NASA space program had achieved the goal set by President John F. Kennedy, to land a man on the moon by the end of the decade. At the time, it was a scientific achievement unmatched in history. It represented the high point of America’s pioneering “can do” national spirit.
That is something which we sadly seem to have lost over the past 50 years. We no longer dream big things and do big things because Americans’ “can do” spirit can achieve it.
We need to renew this spirit to solve global warming and environmental degradation here on planet Earth to prevent the Holocene extinction, Earth’s sixth mass extinction event under way. We need to make the national and global scientific commitment to solving this impending disaster with the same commitment and dedication that we did to putting a man on the moon.