Editorial: What we are capable of
“That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind”
Those words were spoken by Apollo 11 Commander Neil Armstrong, 50 years ago today, when he became the first human being to set foot on the moon.
It was the result of years of meticulous planning and would mark one of the great peaks of human achievement. Just eight years prior, President John F. Kennedy issued the challenge to reach the moon with momentous words of his own. While addressing the U.S. Congress on May 25, 1961, Kennedy laid out the goal for exploration.
“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth … But in a very real sense, it will not be one man going to the Moon — if we make this judgment affirmatively, it will be an entire nation. For all of us must work to put him there.”
It is nearly impossible to overestimate just how difficult of a task this turned out to be, and it captured the imagination of not only a nation, but the world.
Granted, you can’t talk about space exploration during this period of time, without acknowledging the political undertones of the time. America was in the midst of the Cold War and to lose the space race to the Russians could have easily set the future on a different course. But for a period of time in the 1960s, people could acknowledge that humans would be doing the impossible.
It was never easy. NASA did all of this using computers that would be outmatched by our own cellphones in terms of computing power.
Apollo 11, with Commander Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin (Buzz) E. Aldrin Jr., launched on July 16, 1969, perched atop a Saturn V rocket from Kennedy Space Center’s launch complex.
While planners, administrators, astronauts and those at mission control knew what the mission was, they didn’t know what would happen. Of course they knew what they wanted to have happen, but this was unknown territory. Those three brave souls were off the edge of the map.
There were questions, unknowns and of course dangers.
There was a time even in the midst of of landing that the crew was met with with several program alarms, but after some time it was determined it was only the guidance computer, which could not complete its tasks in real time and simply postponed them. It was decided to go ahead with the landing.
Some time later, Apollo 11 touched down. After that, Armstrong and Aldrin exited the craft for one moment of history that would change the course of human history. The impossible was now possible and would lead to so many achievements.
All of this effort so humans could explore not just the world, but the universe surrounding us. To start to understand how we came to be and where we would go from here.
Those three men, so far from home, could tell us what it was like, what it felt like, but millions of us will never know how these souls truly felt when the moment came.
This was a moment of not just American pride, but pride in humanity. Humanity worked problem after problem to reach a moment of space exploration and meeting Pres. Kennedy’s unimaginable challenge. This was pride brought on by a will to meet the challenges of the impossible and go further.
On this date, it’s important to reach out and strive for the impossible. To look at the moon and understand that in the face of the overwhelming we can succeed in those difficult tasks we put our minds too.
It showed Americans and others around the planet what could be accomplished together. This was appropriately summed up by Gene Kranz, the flight director on duty in charge of landing. His words embodied the monumental task of what needed to be completed to achieve what lay ahead.
They are words for his team, spoken in private. A coach to his team, recognizing that landing men on the moon doesn’t happen without a specific mindset. They were words for the moment, but perhaps words for our future as well.
“Whatever happens here today I will stand beside every decision you make. We came into this room as a team and we will leave as a team.”
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