Saturday marks the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing. It’s a milestone worth celebrating because it marked an otherworldly achievement by mankind.
By most accounts, the exploits of Apollo 11 helped bring the world together. People across the globe were watching the fuzzy images of Neil Armstrong taking those tentative steps on another world and declaring that he had made “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
It was a moment unlike any other in history — watching humanity push the bounds of its existence to another level. It would be as if there were cameras on hand to record Columbus reaching North America or Brigham Young emerging into the Salt Lake Valley and determining that the LDS pioneers had finally found “the place.”
The Apollo missions “came in peace for all mankind,” but the accomplishment is a tribute to American ingenuity, resourcefulness and determination. To look back on it now, we can scarcely imagine those astronauts making their perilous journey in a relatively fragile capsule and making calculations with the aid of computing devices no more powerful than a modern pocket calculator.
Today, we carry devices in our pockets that are staggeringly more powerful than those old room-sized behemoths, but we often use our smartphones more for trifles like imagining what we would look like old instead of more noble pursuits.
The Apollo 11 astronauts and their fellow travelers also overcame tragedy. The first Apollo mission turned into disaster when a fire killed the three astronauts onboard during a launch rehearsal. It prompted considerable reflection and a push for safety, which guided the future missions.
Although the dates are surely coincidental, it’s fitting that 2019 marks key anniversaries for both the moon landing and the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869. Both marked the culmination of the tremendous amounts of human ingenuity, wealth and labor. In their own ways, the events helped bring the world closer together.
The moon landing and the railroad also helped transform the world. The Transcontinental Railroad literally tied the nation together and helped spur advancements in agriculture, industry, communication and migration. For the moon landing, much of our accomplishments have been more of a result of the process of developing the Apollo missions, including investing in technology that became the basis of the information society that connects us today.
Perhaps one of the greatest accomplishments of the Apollo missions was offering a new perspective on the world that we live in. Astronauts were able to see and take photos that showed we all live on a “blue marble.” In standing on another world, astronauts were able to bring people on this world together … even if it was just for a brief time.
A half century later, we debate about the future of the space program and whether it is worth the cost and effort. While we celebrate incredible successes, such as the long-lived Martian rovers Curiosity and Opportunity, the United States hasn’t had a manned spacecraft since the space shuttle was retired eight years ago. There are several launch vehicles in development and some of that work is being done by Northrop Grumman in Utah.
Some politicians tout new lunar missions or an expedition to Mars, but we feel those pledges are hollow until there is a more dedicated commitment of resources and sheer will. Fifty years ago, the United States committed itself to reach the moon in fulfillment of the words of President John F. Kennedy — “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.”
We see today that many people from all walks of life choose a path because it is easy. We hope that Saturday’s anniversary will help inspire people to take the right path because it is hard and because it is a journey that should be taken.
Fifty years ago, Neil Armstrong helped mankind take a giant leap. We look forward to working together to make the next giant leap.