Those of a certain age will remember exactly where they were 50 years ago Saturday, on July 20, 1969. That’s when Apollo 11 placed the first men on the moon, and when astronaut Neil Armstrong announced we all had just taken “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
For you younger folk, this was a pretty big deal at the time.
The United States had been engaged in a “Space Race” with the Soviet Union, and not exactly winning. That the Soviets seemingly were winning the race, and winning big, spawned everything from anger to fear in the U.S. as, at that time, let’s just say the relationship between the two countries wasn’t exactly great.
So how would the U.S. regain the lead? Being the first to place a man on the moon would be a game-changer.
But not everybody was on board with the goal, and success wasn’t guaranteed.
Lots of dollars were spent on trying to land on the moon – money that, at the time, was a source of controversy. Many people saw space exploration as a waste of money that could have been spent in many other ways to benefit people here on Earth.
Lives also were lost, as traveling to outer space was anything but a certainty.
But 50 years ago, the dream was realized and, for the most part, celebrated in the U.S. The astronauts, Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, were welcomed as heroes.
That moment, however, perhaps was the high point in space exploration. Going to the moon became kind of a “been there, done that” thing. The last time man set foot on the moon was December 1972.
So now the talk is about setting foot on Mars – another ambitious goal. But there doesn’t seem to be as much enthusiasm for that trip as the one taken in 1969. Maybe it’s because there’s not a clearly defined “Space Race” anymore or that space travel isn’t as unique as it was then.
Nonetheless, July 20, 1969, was a defining moment in U.S. history and one that will always be remembered.