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One Giant Leap For Mankind

(My apologies - a busy work schedule kept me from completing this piece earlier today.)

One of my earliest childhood memories is the moon landing of Apollo 11 on July 20, 1969. Even though I was only a little over two years old, I distinctly remember sitting in my Mom's lap, on the sofa in the den, watching our black and white DuMont console television. I remember how excited Mom and Dad were about the landing, and I remember Dad wiping tears from his eyes. I also remember Mom waking me up and bringing me back into the den later that night, as the astronauts left the lunar module and actually walked on the moon.

From those early days, I became a complete space junkie. I had an Apollo coloring book (this exact one, in fact), and I begged my mom to buy Tang (every kid knew the astronauts drank it) and for years I played with a toy lunar rover that came taped to the jar. I had a poster of Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins that hung over my bed until I was a teenager. I collected every National Geographic magazine I could find that had photos or articles about the space age. I begged Mom to buy the first two volumes of the Peterson's Book Of Man In Space series, even though she balked at the $2.50 price tag. I read those books (they were really fancy magazines) so many times I had them memorized. I wanted a telescope so I could look at the moon, and maybe even see where the astronauts landed. I owned one of the first plastic models of the Saturn V rocket (which of course quickly met its demise at the hands of a hyperactive 7 year old) and eventually models of the Apollo lunar module and command/service module.

And I was probably the only first grader excited about catching the chicken pox, because I had to stay home from school for an entire week -- the week of the Apollo 17 mission -- and I got to watch virtually all of the broadcast mission coverage at home, sitting on that same rose-colored sofa in our den, still watching the black and white DuMont TV. We watched CBS almost exclusively for news in those days, and I clearly remember Walter Cronkite, Wally Schirra, and Eric Severeid anchoring the CBS News broadcasts of the Apollo missions. For me, Walter Cronkite will always be the voice of the Apollo missions.

Over 300,000 people worked for over a decade to make the Apollo 11 mission possible. They were united and inspired by President Kennedy's landmark 1961 speech challenging America (and by proxy the Russians) to land a man on the moon and return him safely to the Earth before the end of the decade. By early 1964, the designs for the Saturn V rocket, Apollo command/service module, and lunar module had been approved, and contracts had been awarded for their construction. The Saturn V rocket first flew in November 1967, a little over a year and a half before the flight of Apollo 11. Impressive, yes, but it should also be noted that by the early 1960's the theoretical basis for space flight had been scribbled on university chalk boards for decades, and engineers had been developing liquid-fueled rocket technology since World War II. The Apollo program did not invent most of the technology necessary for space flight, it only refined it and applied it on a previously unimagined scale.

Still, after being shackled by an enormous government bureaucracy, and crippled by a disturbing lack of vision, such a time line seems like a fairy tale in the world of today's NASA. NASA is currently developing the Orion spacecraft (eerily similar to the Apollo design--imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I suppose) as a manned replacement for the Space Shuttle, but the first Orion isn't scheduled to fly until 2015. And then it's another five years before the first manned Orion mission to the moon is planned. Today, government is trying to solve so many problems that they cannot concentrate heavily on a single one. Besides, we are paying for so much other stuff now that the money just isn't there anymore. And today we have no one to really compete against; certainly not an enemy that is capable of both hanging an existential threat over our heads and outsmarting us in the fields of science and technology -- though I would keep my eye on China's space program.

So here's to the three brave men, Michael Collins, Buzz Aldrin, and Neil Armstrong, who piloted Apollo 11 to the moon and walked on its surface, and in doing so accomplished a feat that few had ever dreamed possible only a mere forty years prior, and which still seems impossible to trump -- at least in our lifetimes -- another forty years after. God bless them, their humility, their sense of shared sacrifice, their bravery and professionalism, and God bless America, the nation that provided the inspiration and the resources and the opportunity for untold thousands to come together and launch what is still the greatest endeavor in the history of mankind.

Incidentally, in the event that the lunar module crashed, or the ascent stage failed to launch properly, marooning Armstrong and Aldrin, speechwriter William Safire prepared an address for President Nixon to deliver to the nation. You can read it here.


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Comments (20)

Brave? I would rat... (Below threshold)


I would rather watch a movie with the family than fly off to the moon to stick a flag in it and say "its really made of cheese" .... For what reason?...To prove its there I suppose. Well, on a clear night You can see it pretty well..So, I guess it must be there.

914,Such is the reas... (Below threshold)

Such is the reason that mankind does not rely on people such as yourself to make those "giant leaps" so to speak. Nothing against your family, however, because there are likely a significant number of folks who were awed by the bravery of these men but also like to watch family movies as well.

On The View yesterday, I se... (Below threshold)

On The View yesterday, I see that Whoopee Goldberg wondered why the flag they planted was rippling. I mean, they were in SPACE, ya know. Story and a clip is on Real Clear Politics. Really.

Sheesh. Everbody KNOWS that someone walked in the studio door when the shot was made and caused a draft. Doesn't anybody read the Enquirer any more?

If there's a conspiracy, it's a plot by the TV networks to keep America's daytime audience stupid.

My right index finger involuntarily started drawing circles around my ear. I couldn't hep it.

What's always puzzled me is... (Below threshold)

What's always puzzled me is that people can't see beyond their own prejudices re space exploration. They talk about wasting billions on it - as if those billions were tightly bundled up and shot into space, never more to be seen.

Instead - you've got a SHITLOAD of jobs involved. Good paying ones, too - where technical expertise is rewarded. You've got construction jobs, purchases from all spectrums of the manufacturing industries, you even need such prosaic things as firefighters at the facilities, janitors, maintenance people, food service workers - so for JOBS it's a great thing. And for those jobs created, think of the cascade effect. The people will need places to stay, places to buy food and clothings and other goods - so you're going to see everything from donut shops on up doing better. And, of course, they're going to need infrastrucure - which will require initial building (which will require MORE people) and long-term maintenance (because roads and sewers and power and cable systems and the like don't build and maintain themselves) - and this doesn't even touch the spinoffs from the technical innovation required to get to orbit.

But we couldn't 'afford' that in the '70s and '80s. We had to 'address issues here at home'.

And now? We still have the same issues of poverty and unemployment. With a barely-existing space program.

Was it a good trade?

What's always puzzled me... (Below threshold)

What's always puzzled me is that people can't see beyond their own prejudices re space exploration. They talk about wasting billions on it - as if those billions were tightly bundled up and shot into space, never more to be seen.

Instead - you've got a SHITLOAD of jobs involved.

Mr. Lawson, I'm totally in agreement and would emphasize on WHAT kinds of jobs.

We were building the future.

What the hell are we building now?


I 'll give credit to NASA n... (Below threshold)

I 'll give credit to NASA next month if the promised hi-res lunar photo survey now in progress delivers evidence of Eagle, flags, dune buggies, etc. sitting on the moon surface. For now, all NASA shovels is the following:


Note: at least on my communist-built computer, the NASA images "enlarge" to other-or-wrong photos. I think I see Abraham Lincoln, though. Or is it Sitting Bull?

M.L., I'll see your Tang and raise you three Space Sticks: chocolate, caramel, and butterscotch.

"I'll see your Tang"-- that sounds nasty. Never mind. Just TAKE the Space Sticks. Please!

Well DaveD, God has already... (Below threshold)

Well DaveD, God has already made those "Giant Leaps" in the creation of the universe. So I see no need to one up Him. I just would rather that money and ingenuity be spent on Peoples needs instead of a space venture.

914 conveniently ignores th... (Below threshold)
John Irving:

914 conveniently ignores the first command God ever made of his creation.

"Go forth and name all the beasts"

He made an awful lot of space out there, pretty arrogant and petty to presume that He only meant "on this one planet."

Ok John, since all the beas... (Below threshold)

Ok John, since all the beasts are already named after 6,993 years, what do We do next? Wait for a neighbor to say will You help Me? And than let another 6992 years go by and say., Yes I will?

Or do We retroactively go back in time and continue on after the first second they were named?

Who decides what is next on the agenda those milleniums ago?

What the hell are we bui... (Below threshold)

What the hell are we building now?

Not much, Paul_in_Houston, near as I can tell.

You've got plenty of people waiting on government checks - money flowing out with no resultant growth. You've got loads of government programs to 'help' the folks who get government checks. The folks getting handouts and 'help' - what inspiration do they have? What 'future' do they have, other than waiting at the mailbox?

914 - you said "I just would rather that money and ingenuity be spent on Peoples needs"

What do they need, by your thinking? A roof over their heads, enough to eat, clothes, medical care? All that's provided by jobs - which NASA had and created throughout the private sector through their contracts and spinoff applications. Hell, how many jobs were created in the '60s in just the TOY industries?

You don't get that from funding welfare.

914 -You can give ... (Below threshold)

914 -

You can give someone a fish, or teach them to fish. If they can fish for themselves, they can gather enough fish to feed themselves, and sell the extra for money for other purposes - everyone benefits.

But just giving someone a fish makes them dependent on the person giving out the fish. Which is fine - if that's what you want.

The government's been in the business of handing out fish for a long time. There's a whole lot of people just waiting for the next fish, who've been conditioned for their entire lives to think that the only place fish comes from is the government.

And that's a damned hard mindset to break.

True enough.I just... (Below threshold)

True enough.

I just dont like the slush fund ability of Government to fund these monstrous endeavors ( no pun intended ) while people are struggling to stay in their houses and worse yet. To eat. And there is no accountability, like the unstimulus bill that was crammed thru recently. Could have housed a lot of People and fed them a long time on that instead of covering the money trail in beauracracy.

Sigh.914 - if all ... (Below threshold)


914 - if all that was important was feeding and housing people, you could take the warehouse route. Take 100k shipping containers, wire 'em for water, electric, and sewer. Stack 'em up in container-cities. Once a day, have a government truck come through with a 3-meal package for every person there.

Inside of six weeks, likely half the units would be gutted for their wiring and plumbing. Inside of 6 months, it'd rival the worst slums of our history.

You can't just give something to someone, no strings attached, and expect them to take care of it.

If we took that stimulus bill, put it in the bank and told NASA they could draw on it at will with the stipulations that by the end of 2020 we had a FUNCTIONING colony on the moon and people on Mars AND at least 5% of the money going to civilian space efforts - you'd see an explosion in virtually all the private sectors as well as one hell of an impetus to get hard sciences taught in schools a lot better. You'd see a hell of a lot of jobs created, and the cascade effect would really see this country boom. Within five years, unemployment would probably be down to 2-4% - and top engineering graduates would be worth their weight in gold.

But that'd be using it to teach people to fish. Far better we just stack 'em up and feed 'em.

bryanD,Space Stick... (Below threshold)


Space Sticks ... aha! That's what they were called! I remember them - chocolate, kind of chewy like Tootsie Rolls. I also remember Mom kept them on the veeeeery top cupboard shelf and dispensed them individually, and only after intense begging.

Looks like this company purchased the formulas from Pillsbury and is now selling Space Sticks once again. According to the same website, they were actually developed by Pillsbury as contingency food for astronauts, similar to modern "energy bars."

Well We give it to the Gove... (Below threshold)

Well We give it to the Goverment no strings attached to dictate how too appropriate funding for who, what, where and how.

I never said just feed them and house them. Im questioning the judgement, priorities and intentions of Big Government politicians that live off of us like leeches, lampreys or woodtics.. Disgusting parasites that think only of themselves.

But yes, if I had unlimited resources I would give freely to all who asked.

Sounds like "space sticks" ... (Below threshold)

Sounds like "space sticks" are actually Marathon bars?

JLawson:The differ... (Below threshold)


The difference between you and 914 is the difference between looking up at the stars, and looking down at the mud, respectively.


I've been hoping for the st... (Below threshold)

I've been hoping for the stars all my life, Paul_in_Houston. The closest I can get to the real thing would be the 'Shuttle Launch Experience' at KSC... or the 3-g simulator-based Mission Space ride at Disney's EPCOT. Can't afford a ride on the Vomit Comet, but I'll take what I can get.

Decade after decade it's been the same old tune - 'We have to put the money to better use', which meant it got tossed out to the social program du jour, and evaporated.

Ah, well. There's some consolation in realizing we've come a hell of a lot further in the last 40 years than we might have, but we could also have gone so much further it's aggravating...

Ok John, since all the b... (Below threshold)
John Irving:

Ok John, since all the beasts are already named after 6,993 years

Since we discover new species year after year, just on one planet alone, out of an almost incalculable number of planets out there, this may be the most ignorant statement ever.

America took the big prize ... (Below threshold)

America took the big prize in space on JULY 20TH 1969 we beat the russians to the moon






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