Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Where Were You On the Day of the First Moon Landing?

"No nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in this race for space...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."  
-- John F. Kennedy, September 12, 1962 

July 20, 1969.  It was the middle of another hot Tempe, Arizona summer.  My brothers, cousins, and I were swimming in the pool.  My dad told us to get out and watch the moon landing on television.  We grabbed towels and huddled in the family room, still wearing damp swimsuits.

I'll never forget hearing the words "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind" and seeing the American flag placed on the lunar surface.  I was so nervous for the astronauts that they were going to get hurt or float away into outer space.

As President Kennedy said, going to the moon would be difficult.  And it was.  Yet, America did not shrink from the challenge, though, given the demands of the time, it would have been justifiable to retreat.  After all, we had half a million men in the divisive Vietnam War.  Massive protest marches and college campus riots were all too common.  Inflation was a growing economic concern.
 As a youngster, I saw the moon landing venture more like an episode of "Lost in Space," one of my favorite after school tv shows, than the feat it truly was. The moon landing merged the very best technology and engineering America could muster, combined with a passion for space exploration and progress.  This was a phenomenal journey of courage, hope, and achievement that advanced scientific adventure.   Americans came together with a sense of awe and national pride.

Seeing the moon landing on video brings back that day in July 1969, recapturing the electricity in the air and the lumps in our throats.  At a time when expressions of emotion in men were uncommon, we watched newscaster Walter Cronkite wipe away tears from his eyes.

What a stunning day it was indeed. {small steps count}

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