Memory foam, the dustbuster, scratch-resistant glasses, and other products–people talk about the scientific benefits, and the products developed from the Apollo program. But they were the least important achievements of the moon landing fifty years ago. The Apollo 11 landing revitalized a dwindling American spirit torn apart by racial animus, and the fight over the Vietnam war.
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It was the biggest miracle in a year of wonders. 1969 began with the NY Jets upsetting the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III on January 12 and the NY Mets winning the world series in October. But those two miracles paled in comparison to the biggest one of all. Fifty years ago on July, 20th two men walked on the moon.
And as much as my twelve-year-old heart lived and died with the fortunes of the hometown teams, for those of us who grew up before Twitter and Facebook the US space program was simply the coolest thing in the world. And the first two people to step on the surface of the moon, Neil Armstrong or Buzz Aldrin were bigger heroes than Joe Namath and Tom Seaver.
Many of the other kids collected baseball cards but not me. I collected a pile of brochures about the space program NASA would mail anyone who asked. Every time there was a new brochure or picture set, I’d tear a page out of my school notebook put it in an envelope, add a six-cent stamp and send it on its way. And when the package of space goodies would show up in my mailbox, I read them over and over, sometimes over a glass of TANG—what the astronauts drank.
Pictures of every Astronaut and every Spacecraft from the first Mercury capsule, through Gemini and Apollo, were tacked up on my bedroom wall to the chagrin of my roommate, my 20 year-old-brother.
Of course part of my personal photo exhibition was the LEM, the lunar excursion module build just a few miles from my house on Long Island. The LEM not only flew the astronauts from the command module to the surface of the moon and back but nine months later it served as a life-raft for the crew of Apollo 13 after their command module became disabled.
Fifty years ago as the three Apollo 11 astronauts were heading to the moon, America was at a much different place. In fact, it seemed as if the country was coming apart at the seams.
The country was split over a war where our heroes overseas were fighting with their hearts, souls and for too many, their lives, but it seemed as if our government wasn’t letting them win. This was the first televised war, and the mainstream media rallied the people against it. The anti-war protests that spread across American motivated. President Lyndon Johnson who decided not to run for re-election.
There were over a hundred race riots in the country after the assassination of Civil Rights leader, the Reverend Dr.Martin Luther King Jr in April 1968. Two months later Robert Kennedy brother of the assassinated President John F, Kennedy looked as though he would succeed Johnson, but he was assassinated on a June evening in Los Angeles as he was about to celebrate winning the California primary.
As the Democrats were about to pick their nominee in Chicago, there were violent protests that looked like a war between protesters and the Chicago PD televised to America. And much of America was telling the protesters to love their country or leave it.
Despite the fighting on the streets, the entire nation was united behind that one goal, landing people on the moon and getting them home safely. And on July 20th, 1969 the whole country was praying for the three Apollo astronauts and their brave task.
Other than the one in our basement, the only place in my house with a TV Set was my parents’ room. When Neil Armstrong was about to open the LEM door and step on the moon, I slept on my parent’s floor so I could be woken to see man’s first moonwalk. As I watched Neil Armstrong walk down that ladder, I couldn’t help to think how cool this country is, to make this happen. And as I looked at the earth from the moon, I thought what a beautiful world God created. That night was not only a victory for science and a win for faith but a unifying moment for the country.
It was hours past my 8pm bedtime when I heard those famous words, “That’s one small step (a) for man. One giant leap for mankind.”
That moonwalk didn’t end the war, nor did it cure civil rights, but thanks to the brave Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins, those issues seemed more fixable. There were still political disagreements and riots, but after we landed men on the moon, the country began to come together. We grew closer in November when Apollo 12 landed on the moon and even more unified in April 1970 when much of America prayed for the safe return of the Apollo 13 Astronauts whose command module was disabled by an explosion as it headed toward the moon.
Fifty years later, those NASA brochures and pictures, are in a plastic tub in the basement of my home. And America seems to have lost that unity of purpose we rediscovered during the Apollo 11 mission when I slept in my parent’s bedroom to watch the coolest thing our country has ever done and witnessed the incredible universe that God created.
Fifty years later It feels like 1968. Americans are fighting Americans. Thankfully there aren’t hundreds of races riots spreading across the country, but anyone who disagrees with the liberal agenda is called a racist. Instead of trying to work together to solve America’s problems, the opposition party obstructs anything the administration attempts to accomplish simply because they want to make the other guys look bad.
NASA now has a goal to return people to the Moon by the 55th anniversary of the first moon landing. It is my hope that we use this anniversary, a revitalized NASA and our national space program, to reunify the country. So we can celebrate together, and so we can sit across each other at a table without having our opponents thrown out, strike our opponents because they are wearing a hat we don’t like.
Apollo 11 wasn’t an achievement of three astronauts, a NASA achievement, nor even the achievement of scientists. Those first men on the moon a half a century ago was an American achievement. The real achievement of the Apollo program was It confirmed again that this is the greatest country in the world, with the best people in the world—America can accomplish anything it puts our collective mind on. We still are the greatest country with the greatest people, we’ve forgotten what we can achieve. It is my hope that the revitalized space program will bring back the spirit Americans had beginning with our landing on the moon, and remind Americans how lucky we are to live in the greatest country in the world, The United States of America.