Last week was the 38th anniversary of Apollo 11, the first space flight mission that resulted in a human lunar landing. During the next three and a half years, twenty four more American men visited the moon and twelve of them walked on the moon’s surface. No one has been back since December, 1972.
A whole generation has grown up knowing moon missions only as something in history books or boring stories from us fifty-somethings who were obsessed with the whole idea of spaceflight and what it might mean for our global future. The Apollo astronauts who are still alive are all over seventy.
The anniversary went by with barely a mention. I thought Boomers were running the world and the media. What happened?
Some of the national news casts on television and radio might have noted the anniversary, but the main stories were about Pakistan, Hillary Clinton and Harry Potter. The mentions this date did get were usually short and near the end of the newscast – something we media folks call “kickers.”
My biggest disappointment, however, is that I forgot the date too.
I was a space geek as a kid, spending hours watching the endless space flight coverage on the three television networks we had at the time, yet July 20th was just another Friday this year and no newscast I watched and no DJ I listened to mentioned anything about Apollo 11 or that magic moment at 10:56pm EDT on Saturday night, July 20, 1969 when Neil Armstrong climbed down the lunar landing ladder and said “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Today I searched the internet to see if I was mistaken about the lack of coverage. The ABC Nightly News podcast gave it 2 minutes. Predictably, National Geographic, Moon Today (that really is a web site) and Space.com made mention of the anniversary. But one space news site I saw didn’t and I couldn’t find any newspaper stories across the country. Admittedly that could be due to my lack of good search skills.
What if the Columbus generation had had the same attitude? Few Europeans would have bothered to venture across the Atlantic after 1495. Queen Isabella’s successors would have been spending their country’s money on fighting wars instead of exploring the vast unknown. The United States might never have happened.
I think remembering events is important, not as a vehicle for living in the past or reminiscing about the often misnamed good old days but as a reminder to pay attention to lessons we might have learned from those events.
Moon missions united our country and our planet and gave us a positive vision of how science could improve our future. The spirit of exploration is a key part of the spirit of humanity and to paraphrase the opening line of the original Star Trek television series … which, ironically, ended its run a month before Apollo 11 … space is the final frontier and provides us with the opportunity to explore new civilizations and to boldly go … well, you remember the rest.
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