If you are sixty-something you remember the JFK assassination, President Nixon and Watergate, Woodstock, Martin Luther King’s assassination, the Vietnam War and the Beatles invasion. All this stuff happened in a 10-year span. However, in my opinion, the most important event in the history of man happened also during that 10-year span – that being the day a human first walked on the moon.
Since the beginning of humans walking, thinking, existing on this earth, every man, women, and child has marveled at the beauty and power of the full moon. Everyone’s imagination would have to wonder basic questions about a place so far away yet so visible to every single person on the planet. Many civilizations did not know the existence of others on other continents but everyone on earth knew of the moon.
To achieve the goal of getting to the moon, President Kennedy ordered NASA to create the Apollo program to get a man to the moon and back safely. First there was the huge tragic setback of the fire of the Apollo 1 mission. An electrical fire in the first Apollo capsule killed astronauts Roger Chaffee, Ed White, and Gus Grissom. Then successful Apollo missions were executed to get the Apollo space program in position to have a successful safe mission to land a man on the moon.
The first stage of this milestone was the huge sendoff from Cape Kennedy Center Launch Complex 39A (Florida) on July 16, 1969 at 9:32 a.m. EDT. I watched live like the rest of the world that owned TVs as the most powerful rocket ever built, the Saturn 5, blasted off to send men to the moon. Then just four days later, July 20, 1969 at 4:17 p.m. EDT, the whole world watched as Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin landed the Lunar Module (LEM) on the moon’s surface. We all listened to the words of Neil Armstrong, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”
Finally that evening at 10:56 p.m. EDT July 20, 1969, the greatest moment of man happened and was shown live on TVs across the world: Neil Armstrong came out of the Lunar Module and descended down the short ladder to put the first human footprint on another world other than earth. I was at home in Pelham Manor, New York with my mom and dad in our TV room watching CBS with Walter Cronkite in the lead chair. He had Mercury and Gemini astronaut Wally Schirra with him. They were both as amazed as we were. Sadly the dates and times of this achievement are recorded incorrectly on many websites on the Internet. I had to go to the YouTube of Cronkite’s CBS live coverage that day to get the correct time and date. As Neil Armstrong took his first step, man’s first step on the moon, he said, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” And it truly was. Then the whole world watched as so many long time questions were answered; first for me was, how firm was the surface of the moon and would Armstrong sink into the moons surface? But, no, it was firm. Then I wondered could he walk in a different gravity other than earth? Again, yes, he could but only in a suit that if he fell he would not be able to get up by himself. Right there that July 20th my dad, mom and I had that moment where we shared something that is a forever, a milestone of my lifetime and of theirs. One that is the milestone for human existence on earth.
Now 49 years later our world is different, many people all over the world own computers or even cell phones more powerful and efficient than the computers NASA used to do all the calculations to put man on the moon. We have instant communication via cell phones and satellites to all the corners of the globe. Yet after President Nixon terminated the Apollo Space Program two missions sooner then originally planned (due to the budget cuts Congress demanded) no man has traveled to the moon or anywhere else beyond earth. A new day of space destination may come sooner than later but even when it does, I believe what I witnessed with my mom and dad that July in 1969 will still be the biggest achievement of mankind.
For all you sixty-something folks reading this I would love to hear where you where and what you were thinking that day. Do you believe it was wise to terminate space destination travel and should it be continued? Please comment!