“That’s one small step for [a] man; one giant leap for mankind.”
A 38 year old Neil Armstrong spoke those first words on an alien landscape. Mankind had finally slipped the surly bonds of earth in hopes to put footprints on a new world. We came in peace.
Fifty years ago today, the United States was on its way to “winning” the Space Race and fulfilling late President John F. Kennedy’s bold vision to land a man on the Moon and return him safely to the Earth before the end of the 1960s. Fifty years ago today, humanity was united in cheering on the what was about to be a historic moment where Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were about to walk on the surface of the Moon.
It’s an achievement that Americans take pride in. We accomplished something that man has dreamed about for centuries and that has yet to be achieved by another nation. In fact, we achieved it five more times before Project Apollo was cancelled.
The euphoria from the successes of Apollo 11 quickly evaporated. By 1970, NASA was feeling pressure of financial constraints. It had planned missions through Apollo 20, but the space agency had been able to squeak out with two additional missions beyond the Nixon Administration’s desire to end the project after Apollo 15.
The public had lost interest by Apollo 16 and 17. Flying to the Moon had seemingly become old hat. On December 16, 1972, we left the Moon for the final time and manned spaceflight has since been confined to low Earth orbit.
We benefit from a lot of technological advancements from Apollo: the miniaturization of electronics, freeze-dried foods, scratch-resistant lenses, etc. We do indeed benefit from space exploration as we expand our scientific knowledge about our world and what is beyond our world.
Presidents give lip service about getting back to the Moon and eventually Mars, but budgets speak volumes. Ultimately, it’s Congress that makes the decisions on what does or doesn’t get funded. NASA did get the best budget it’s had in the past decade, but it’s still a drop in the bucket compared to other budget items (0.49% of the $4.4 trillion budget for FY 2019).
Man has not stepped on the Moon during the time I’ve been alive. Perhaps we will in my or my son’s lifetime, but that ship ferrying man to the Moon once more may not bear a US flag. I hope we can unite once more to reach for the stars and have man explore beyond Earth orbit in peace.