This article first appeared in Texas Lifestyle Magazine on July 24, 2019.
In 1961, President John F. Kennedy had an ambitious goal of sending an American safely to the moon and back before the end of the decade, which seemed like a lofty goal at the time. Call it wishful thinking or premonition but President Kennedy’s statement to a special joint session of Congress came to fruition a mere five months shy of the ‘Me Decade’ that was the 1970s.
The Space Age, which began with Russia’s artificial satellite Sputnik I in 1957, was characterized by rapid development of new scientific and technological advances. In an effort to bring the United States to the forefront of aerospace technology, Project Apollo was designed to execute President Kennedy’s goal. The Space Age peaked when Apollo 11 landed on the moon’s surface on July 20, 1969, watched on television by over 650 million people worldwide.
Apollo 11 was launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, with Mission Control at NASA in Houston and led by Commander Neil Armstrong, Command Module Pilot Michael Collins and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin.
“Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed,” were the first words spoken from the surface of another world. As he stepped down onto the moon’s surface, Armstrong’s simple yet heartfelt words again passed into collective human memory: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” The Apollo 11 moon landing and spacewalk is easily recognized as one of the most defining moments of the 20th century.
Apollo 11’s epic venture into space didn’t go off without a few hiccups. Thanks to the effects of Newtonian physics, the lunar module missed its original touchdown mark due to a residual boost which further caused higher than expected fuel consumption. Additionally, moon dust would keep NASA scientists guessing until the last moment as to whether the Eagle would land on stable ground or jagged rocks and it wasn’t until Armstrong took his famous first step that NASA would breathe a sigh of relief.
Just on the off-hand chance something did go amiss on the history-making journey, President Richard Nixon had prepared a speech entitled, “In Event of Moon Disaster,” which fortunately wasn’t released until 30 years after. The speech ended with a touching statement, “For every human being who looks up at the moon in the nights to come will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind.”
Following the success of Apollo 11, NASA would successfully launch five additional manned spacecrafts to the moon and back until the Apollo program’s end in 1972. All six Apollo missions returned with scientific data and lunar samples that aided in soil mechanics, meteoroids, seismic, heat flow, lunar ranging, magnetic fields, and solar wind experiments.
So, how have we on Earth reaped the benefits of man walking on the moon? For starters, we have Velcro, memory foam and water filters, freeze-dried food (for better or worse), scratch-resistant coatings, shoe insoles, ‘Toy Story’s’ Buzz Lightyear, and most important of all, we have learned more about our own planet. However, it was the technology field that witnessed the most significant growth and development in the form of micro-electronics and computer systems. The work of NASA engineers and their technological ingenuity are given credit for the countless hours of screentime we all have come to enjoy.
On July 20, Americans will once again come together to remember and celebrate the wonder, excitement and hope that Apollo 11 and her crew took with them into outer space 50 years ago.
The astronauts of Apollo 11 left a commemorative plaque on the moon 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.” A little something for all mankind to keep in mind.
NASA celebrates the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 July 14-21.