This time of divisiveness, outrage, combativeness and disillusionment is a good time to look back at a time of hope, lump-in-your-throat patriotism and pride in America when we set a moon landing as a goal and achieved it.
“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,” President John F. Kennedy said in a rousing speech at Rice University on September 12th, 1962.
At 10:56 p.m. EDT on July 20, 1969, astronaut Neil Armstrong, born in the small town of Wapakoneta, Ohio, planted the first human foot on another world. With more than half a billion people watching on television, he climbed down the ladder and proclaimed: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” (› Play Audio)
The astronauts left behind an American flag, a patch honoring the fallen Apollo 1 crew, and a plaque on one of Eagle’s legs that reads, “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon. July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind.”
I still remember being glued to the television through the entire tense and thrilling event, transfixed by the sublime vision of Americans on the moon, in the living room of my family’s Connecticut home.
I was vividly reminded of that time of optimism and common purpose during another tumultuous period in our history when I watched Steven Spielberg‘s movie “First Man” yesterday. (View trailer)
Retelling the story of the American space program from its initiation in the 1960s to the Apollo 11 mission through the lens of Armstrong’s life, the movie unfolds the setbacks, obstacles and tragedies that led to the ultimate triumph and launched us into a new era of science, technology and discovery.
It’s important to remember, though, that the ’60s were also a time of ferment. President Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X were slain, race riots broke out, urban decline was on the upswing, and the country was going through the national trauma of Vietnam.
On top of all that, protests against the draft were escalating, Cesar Chavez was pushing for agricultural boycotts, the Bay of Pigs Invasion failed, the Cuban Missile Crisis had Americans fearing nuclear war, the militant Black Panthers emerged and National Guardsmen shot and killed four Kent State students at an anti-war protest.
As one historian put it, “In the 1960s, dissidents shook the very foundation of U.S. civil society.”
But America came through it all.
The same will hold true today if we commit to a better future. America can still be the shining “city upon a hill” that John Winthrop, an early pilgrim, described.
“In my mind, it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind swept, God blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace,” Ronald Reagan said in his farewell address. “…after 200 years, two centuries, she still stands strong and true on the granite ridge, and her glow has held steady no matter what storm.”
So, take a break from your hectic life and spend a couple hours in a darkened theater watching “First Man”. You will celebrate America’s triumphs and emerge with a strengthened belief that this too shall pass.