31 Posts in 31 Days: #20
By way of hobby and interest, I am a historian. I love to read the stories of humanity's past and to imagine I was there. The events that changed the world for the better are the ones I most long to have witnessed -- the events that symbolize the great achievement that mankind is capable of.
The signing of the Declaration of Independence.
The first circumnavigation of the globe.
The invention of the Gutenburg press.
The Wright Brothers' first flight at Kittyhawk.
But the one that has stirred my imagination the longest, is the one I only missed by three years: Neil Armstrong stepping off of the ladder of the Eagle landing module, and on to the surface of the moon. The first human being ever to leave the planet Earth, and set foot down upon the surface of another celestial body. I get chills every time I think about it. I always have. It was 40 years ago today.
We, this generation called "X," were born in the twilight of innocence. We came in the fading glow of the Space Age, and before the dawn of the Information Age. It was a time of heroes. Though the last man walked on the moon two months after I was born, we grew up in the shadow of the astronauts. I have heard the names Armstrong and Aldrin all of my life. The world was still a very big place, and we were still very small. We didn't have satellite television or cell phones or the internet or even video games (not quite yet) to distract our attention. We had time to lay on our backs, on summer evenings, and stare out into the stars and dream big dreams.
As it is with most boys, I wanted to be many things when I grew up -- a fireman, a policeman, an archaeologist/adventurer -- but more than anything else, I wanted to go to outer space. Ask any man about my age, and I'd be willing to bet most would say the same thing. In fact, most of us would go now, in a heartbeat, if given the chance.
As this fortieth anniversary of Neil Armstrong's small step has approached, I have found myself pondering the significance of the Space Program, and of the race to the moon. It gave us tremendous advances in technology. Cell phones, satellite television, home computers, even the memory foam mattress all came about as byproducts of the space race. NASA was the cutting edge of science, and we all benefitted from their work.
But the space race didn't cure cancer or diabetes.
It didn't bring about world peace.
But it could have, and maybe someday it will. Because the greatest accomplishment of Neil Armstrong placing his boot into the powdery surface of the moon, and returning safely to the Earth -- the giant leap for mankind -- was setting a goal of such loftiness, and then despite all odds, achieving success. For a brief moment anything was possible.
Apollo 11 is a tribute the unconquerable human spirit.
On July 16, 1969 that Saturn V rocket blasted off from the earth into the deep blue sky and the star strewn space beyond. It carried three men, and the dreams of humanity from time immemorial. On July 20, 1969 the Eagle landed in the Sea of Tranquility, and there these heroes placed a plaque which read:
"Here Men From The Planet Earth First Set Foot Upon the Moon, July 1969 A.D. We Came in Peace For All Mankind."
For all mankind.
From the moon those men didn't see boundaries and borders. They didn't see war and poverty. They saw one very small blue gem in vast ocean of blackness.
There is talk of going back to the moon now. I hope it is more than talk. I hope we go to the moon, and then on to Mars. I hope to see astronauts once again carry the dreams of all of us to the celestial realms.
I hope that when my children, and someday my grandchildren, lie on their backs, on a warm summer evening, and stare out into the immense, bejeweled night sky, it ignites in them a flame to go farther, and to accomplish more. To reach the highest heights and to dream the biggest dreams.
We've been there before.