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“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone.”
John Kennedy Fifty years ago, I was one of a billion people watching on television as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon’s Sea of Tranquility.
Note: before the first moon landing, 10 Astronauts paid the ultimate price. Chronologically: Theodore Freeman, 1964; Charles Bassett and Elliot See, 1966; Roger Chaffee, Virgil Grissom, Edward White, Edward Givens, Clifton Williams, Michael J. Adams and Robert H. Lawrence, Jr., 1967. We shouldn’t forget.
One July 1969 Sunday night I heard Neil Armstrong say, “Houston, Tranquility Base here, the Eagle has landed.” I was at the New Mexico State University Methodist Student Center. Later, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”
President Kennedy said, “In a very real sense, it will not be one man going to the moon, it will be an entire nation.
For all of us must work to put him there.” Hundreds of thousands of people worked on this.
Fifty years later we can make a cost/benefit statement for that energy and money. We are better off because of the about $4 billion spent each year.
That’s a little over $30 billion a year in 2019 dollars. In October 1957, as a 7-year old, I saw Sputnik 1 at dusk fly overhead.
My Uncle Ralph said to me, “Remember this your whole life.” I have.
In the early 1960s I avidly followed the Mercury, Gemini and then Apollo missions.
I cheered when it went right and was bummed when they did not. My first fall semester in college included Apollo 8 orbited the moon 10 times and returning safely.
We are unable to calculate all the ways the moon race improved our country in technology and education. Many young people made career decisions because of the lure of space.
While not solely because of the space race, college enrollment, especially in the sciences flourished. At NMSU from 1961 to 1972 enrollment almost tripled.
While our space industry concentrated on Earth orbit and never returned humans to the moon, that space industry is and has been robust.
Today, it doesn’t drive education like it did in the 1960s. Back then there was an increase in pilot training since the astronauts were pilots first.
NMSU had an on-campus airport on the south end of campus. I flew from there many times before the college closed it.
As President Kennedy noted, our Space Industry, “…served to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills...”
In retrospect, the political will to go to the moon may have been because John Kennedy was assassinated. Perhaps.
Regardless, our country is stronger and technologically much better.
It drove the next phase of our space industry.
I feel fortunate to have had a front row seat 50 years ago and in the subsequent years have been fascinated by the International Space Station.
Then and now I look at the moon differently after humans walked on it.
Email: drswickard@comcast. net