With one step 50 years ago today, Neil Armstrong capped mankind’s greatest achievement when he set foot on the surface of the moon.
It’s one of those moments burned into the memory. Everyone old enough to remember can tell you where they were and what they were doing when Armstrong stepped off the lunar lander and onto the moon.
“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” is, and will remain for all time, one of the greatest statements ever uttered on this planet — or any body in the heavens.
The voyage of Apollo 11 to the moon and back capped a pledge made by President John F. Kennedy on May 25, 1961, before a special joint session of Congress: “... I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”
That lofty goal survived Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas in November 1963. It survived efforts to end the program because of its cost. It survived the tragic deaths of three astronauts in a disastrous fire during a preflight test of Apollo 1 in 1967. It survived the mounting turmoil in our country resulting from the Vietnam War.
Apollo 11 succeeded because, for this project, our country pulled together. Despite our differences. Despite our troubles. The country came together to back the mission through the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs.
The effort fulfilled another point Kennedy made before Congress on May 25, 1961: “But in a very real sense, it will not be one man going to the moon — if we make this judgment affirmatively — it will be an entire nation. For all of us must work to put him there.”
Nearly half a million people — engineers, scientists and technicians — worked on the Apollo project. Not one company built the Saturn V rockets, which sent the astronauts to the moon; the command module that supported them on the trip from Earth to the moon; and the lunar module, which put man on another object in the universe for the first time. The work was spread around, making it a national effort.
As talk continues about returning to the moon and beyond, we all can look back 50 years to July 20, 1969, with pride. We can remember what our country can achieve when we work together.
And, we can remember the words on a plaque left on the moon by Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin: “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon July 1969, A.D. We came in peace for all mankind.”