Our lives are highlighted by a number of “where were you when …” moments. Most of those moments recall bloodshed and tragedy.
Where were you when President Kennedy was assassinated? Dr. King? Where were you on 9/11? The Space Shuttle Columbia disaster? These events pockmark our personal timelines with grief, profound and lasting. One event, however, stands in stark relief – the rare moment of significance filled with romance and hopefulness.
Where were you when we landed on the moon?
On July 16, 1969, a Saturn V rocket blasted off from Cape Kennedy. Four days later, America gathered around television sets to watch Neil Armstrong descend from Apollo 11 and leave footprints in the dust of the moon.
Do you remember the feeling? Do you remember how everything seemed possible; the stars seemed closer, the air cleaner, your neighbors more pleasant?
The reality of that time was different. The Vietnam War was at its height, the free spirited 1960s were coming to a halt, the economy was headed toward recession. But none of that mattered because we had reached the heavens themselves. We were explorers in a new world, closer than ever to God.
Fifty years later that sort of hope feels beyond our grasp. We carry tiny little hate machines in our hands and get angry at words beamed to us as ones and zeroes. Everything is a crisis, everything is a war, everyone is an enemy. Us against them is the rallying cry of the day where “us” is just us and “them” is everybody.
These are the times for which hopefulness is made. We need to become explorers again.
Today, there are a number of private companies aiming toward the stars. That is what American innovation is, not another mobile ride sharing app or scooter company. We aim higher and dream bigger. Elon Musk has SpaceX and Jeff Bezos has Blue Horizon, both companies with commercial space travel and colonization as goals.
Our government seems reinvigorated as well. The Trump administration announced in March that America would once again put humans on the moon by 2024. China is racing in that direction as well. The moon, however, may just be a weigh station on the path to Mars. Mars is next; it is the new, new world.
The DNA of human beings ripples with the stuff of exploration. Our frustration today is a kind of cabin fever, a reaction to being landlocked. What problems do we face that the romance of space cannot solve? What disagreements cannot be salved by hope?
We aim higher and dream bigger. We must make it a national priority to set out for new horizons. A remake of the Apollo 11 landing does not cut it. Hope comes from the thing that is next, not the thing that is last. We need to get to Mars.
Fifty years ago, humankind broke free of the ultimate binding, but every ceiling has still another above it. This is why we yearn; this is why we look up; this is why we dream.
The next thing is the thing that moves us, the thing just beyond our fingertips is the thing that we need the most.
Buzz Aldrin said this: “Let me say, as I sit here before you today having walked on the Moon, that I am myself still awed by that miracle. That awe, in me and in each of us… must be the engine of future achievement, not a slow dimming light from a time once bright.”
Fifty years later, it is time to reclaim the hopefulness of space exploration. We must go back to go forward – and beyond.