Friday, July 20, 2007

Apollo 11

Apollo 11 touched down on July 20, 1969. I was a 9-year-old kid, living an hour's drive south of the Cape, fascinated by all things space-related. My father worked for Piper Aircraft then and had his private license. He'd rented a plane so we could go up and watch the launch from the air. Despite the need to keep the required distance (10 miles, I think), it was impressive. The night of the first moonwalk, I mainly remember struggling to stay awake. I think I missed the actual "One small step for man..." moment.

My wife was a young girl vacationing with her parents in West Germany. What she most remembered was how ecstatic the Germans were that the Americans were first on the Moon. Americans' money was no good: if people found out you were from the USA, they lined up to buy you dinners and drinks.

Apollo was much more than one country's triumph, though. John Stewart wrote a song about how, no matter where we were, no matter what our circumstances, "Still we stopped to watch it, yeah / on a July afternoon / watched a man named Armstrong / walk upon the Moon."

There were a lot of reasons behind that voyage, from science to the Cold War. It's often believed Apollo had an unlimited budget and sailed through Congress every year. Not true. There was a lot of debate over whether to spend what we were spending to put a handful of men on the moon.

Almost no one, though, would have guessed back then that we were going to let a half-century pass (as seems likely) before the first post-Apollo human voyage. The moonwalkers are old men now. They may all have passed on by the time we plant new footprints in the lunar dust.
Arthur C. Clarke was once asked what event of the 20th Century he would never have predicted. He said, "That we would have gone to the moon and stopped."

If we are to go again - and I think we should - we need to do it right, with a long-term plan and a long-term commitment to explore and utilize Earth's nearest neighbor as part of a grander vision.

To the countless thousands of men and women who made Apollo possible: we salute you all.

Ad astra,
Matt Bille

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