At 9:39 pm (CST) on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong opened the hatch to the Eagle lunar lander. At 9:56 pm (CST) his left foot first touched the lunar surface, making him the first human being to set foot on the moon. Immortal words were spoken, and Armstrong and his lander copilot Buzz Aldrin would leave a little over 21 hours later.
Five more missions would leave their mark upon the surface of the moon. In December of 1972, the Apollo 17 mission would be the last time a human presence would visit the surface of our enigmatic neighbor in the sky. Eugene Cernan, Apollo 17’s commander, is the last man to have walked on the Moon. His parting words as he returned to the lunar module for the last time were,
“As I take man’s last step from the surface, back home for some time to come — but we believe not too long into the future — I’d like to just say what I believe history will record — that America’s challenge of today has forged man’s destiny of tomorrow. And, as we leave the Moon at Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind. Godspeed to the crew of Apollo 17.”
I am very much a student of history, and the American space program has always been a love affair with me. Maybe it is because I was born not long before the first men stepped foot on the moon. Maybe it is because my early childhood was filled with the afterglow of the early 70’s and how the impossible really did seem possible back then. I still hold that fire in my heart for our human space program. It does sadden me that on the 41st anniversary of man’s first steps on the moon, we find the program that was to get us first back to the moon, and then to mars on the cutting room floor of the budget office.
Last year, I wrote a few thoughts about the state of the space program. In that post, I conveyed how the political, economic, and social environment were not the same, but at the same time they had their own difficulties. As I said in my post last year, the point was clear…we, as an American people were given a goal, and an expectation to complete it. Guess what happened? We made our goal. That program marked one of the largest job creation programs this country has ever known.
Space exploration is expensive, it is leading edge, and it is risky. However, such a program provides so much more. It gives us technological advancement, pride, and heroes. I find it amazing that a program that employs so many Americans, and puts our technology, and our very patriotism on display for the world is run on such a shoestring. We have billions of dollars available to help banks and other financial institutions stay afloat, but for some reason we cannot find the money to bankroll the agency that can do so much for this country if the chance is given.
Much like last year, I will end with a question. I have to ask where is our inspiration as a nation, and is this how we honor those that have already been there? I can only hope to see such adventures begin in my lifetime.