With the 50th anniversary of the moon landing today, July 20, 2019, it is important to remember why we went.
What did we achieve by going to the moon in 1969? Beyond major scientific and technological advances, what did the average person gain? In America, at least, it did not cause the Cold War to end and the Russians to surrender in fear of our dominance.
President John F. Kennedy understood why mankind had to go beyond its home. He said it best in his September 12, 1962 speech at Rice Stadium in Houston.
“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…,” he said.
To Kennedy, going to the moon was more than the Space Race. It was bigger than the Cold War. It was about giving the nation a shared goal, a common dream.
The moon landing was more than research. Of course, many questions were answered by the samples and data taken. Yet that first mission was about realizing our full potential both as a nation and as a human race.
Beyond America: The Global Goal
Americans were the majority of those working for NASA’s mission. But they were not just working for the United States of America. They were shouldering the dreams of every person around the world.
Mankind has always looked to the heavens in wonder. Beyond the expansive beauty of space, there has always been a flame of curiosity. We have been trying to solve the universe’s mysteries for centuries.
Going to the moon was a chance for humanity to leap forward. If, in less than a decade, we had managed to send and return astronauts from the moon, then we could do anything. Suddenly, the rest of the galaxy would be at our fingertips.
The moon landing was not just primetime television for Americans. An estimated 600 million people across the globe saw Neil Armstrong step off that ladder.
The rest of the world was enthralled with the saga because they saw themselves in the astronauts. It did not matter that they were white, American men. They were human. They were like everyone else.
From the beginning of time until July 20, 1969, mankind’s knowledge of space was finite. Nearly every culture had legends about the moon. We could theorize about our neighbor all we wanted, but would always be stuck on this little planet. Until we were not.
We traveled to the moon for everyone. It was a chance to push mankind forward in both knowledge and belief. When Armstrong stepped onto that powdery surface, he was simply a man. He showed the world that we could leave our home and explore another.
For A Troubled Nation
While the moon landing was, of course, for the progress of all mankind, the event was always for America. When Kennedy gave his speech in 1962, tensions with Cuba were rising and the Soviet Union’s space program was strides ahead of ours.
By the time of Apollo 11’s fateful journey, President Kennedy, along with his brother Bobby and Martin Luther King Jr., was dead. The nation was entrenched in Vietnam, although many at home vehemently opposed the war. The United States was full of protest, violence and fire.
What Kennedy did, giving the space program a clear deadline for the moon landing, seemed too optimistic in 1962. After all, we had just sent our first man, John Glenn, to space. How could we develop and design a mission to go all the way to the moon?
When Kennedy was assassinated, it gave the space program a necessary boost. To many, completing the late president’s wish would be a great way to honor him. He believed in the ability of America and the nation could not let him down now.
From the beginning of the gay rights movement to opposing the draft, conflict was everywhere in 1969. The moon landing’s ability to remind the country of our shared nationality was unique and singular at that time.
When Armstrong stepped onto the moon, he remarked on it being an important step for mankind. But there was always an undertone of American patriotism. Every American could look at their television and be proud. We did this. We successfully went outside our atmosphere and returned.
The moon landing was important because it reminded a troubled nation of its shared potential. America sorely needed this. With wars at home and abroad, it was often difficult to remember that we all shared the same values.
The values of innovation and independence are common American beliefs. They were on full display that day. The support and ingenuity it took to achieve this monumental event came from America. Our country provided the means necessary to complete the mission.
We are living in a time when there is a stronger focus on cost and people are not afraid to call out what they see as unnecessary spending. People may look back on the moon landing with disgust rather than pride. They will question whether the cost was worth the Cold War victory or what we gained science-wise from the landings.
Saving money is not always everything. While it is important to not overspend, sometimes the benefits outweigh the costs. The hope it brought to mankind, as well as the unity it brought a divided nation, are what made Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins and Neil Armstrong’s mission legendary and necessary.