Forty years ago today—July 20, 1969—Man walked on another celestial body for the first time. I was reminded of the first moon landing today in an excellent editorial by Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post.
A few weeks earlier (the 25th anniversary of D-Day, in fact), I’d graduated from high school. The week before graduation, one of my classmates learned her brother had been killed in Vietnam. In less than three months I’d be taking a bus to Los Angeles to begin 5 years at UCLA. Richard Nixon, for whom I’d campaigned, yet had been too young to vote for, had been president for exactly 5 months. So I had a pretty broad appreciation for the events of the day.
I was glued to the television during the entire mission, from launch to lunar landing, moonwalk to liftoff, docking to splashdown and the events that followed. I was awed; I was inspired; I was downright proud–not that we’d "beaten the Soviets" to the moon, but that we’d succeeded in a nearly impossible endeavor.
Today, the median age of United States citizens is 36.8 years. This means over half of the population wasn’t even born when Neil Armstrong made his "…giant leap for mankind." For those of you who have only seen films (even if they are digitally remastered and in high definition) of the moon landings (how many of you have seen more than one?), they cannot begin to compare to the excitement, the thrill, the goosebumps of seeing that first hop onto the moon’s surface, live. Sadly, you may never see it happen again.
Forty years later I’m rather ashamed, and extremely disappointed, that within 18 months the United States won’t have a way to put a person in orbit, much less have a presence on the Moon, or Mars. In 1969 I thought, certainly within the next quarter-century we’d send a man to Mars and back—probably from our lunar base.
We could have. Oh, we most assuredly could have.