On July 20, 1969, forty years ago Monday, the first men ever stepped foot on the moon and the entire world watched in astonishment. A generation of young men who had grown up reading space-cadet books about boys flying in rocket ships into outer space, decided after World War II that maybe that wasn't so far-fetched after all, devoted their lives and in some cases gave them up in pursuit of the dream of space exploration.
The first man to set foot on the moon was astronaut Neil Armstrong, who made the now famous statement: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."
It is impossible to reconstruct the actual awe of most people in the world at that time, at the idea that the U.S. could build a rocket and send it to the moon, with people, and have men get out and walk around the moon. All over the world, no matter what the time in different nations, people ran outside and gazed up at the moon at that exact moment, foolishingly wondering if they could see the outlines of these men, but mostly just wanting to be able to tell their grandchildren that they "stood right in a field and looked up at the moon, clear as anything, at the exact same moment those men walked on the moon for the first time ever."
Who knew whether the surface of the moon would burn them up, or would collapse from under their space ship and bury them forever in hidden caves and caverns on that dark and cold sphere. Who knew if there were aliens, or creatures, or diseases, that would strike a man down who dared to set foot on that surface.
(Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon).
The world believed that if we could send a man to the moon, we could do anything. For some reason, the ability to send a man to the moon was perceived as the outer limit of what would be needed to solve all problems here on earth. Surely if we can walk on the moon we can end war, create peace among all nations. Clearly if we can send a man to the moon, then we can also provide medicine and doctors for the sick, food for the hungry, shelter for those without. All these things were somehow expected to come from the successful space program.
(Armstrong steps out of the spaceship, and his foot is the first ever on the moon).
The sad truth is that the space program has done none of those things. It's not for a lack of knowledge or understanding or science that we do not solve these terrible problems in our world. It's a lack of caring. Even in our own relatively rich country, we refuse to provide shelter, food or healthcare to many of our own people, leaving them to suffer and die rather than lending a hand.
The space program has deteriorated into just another part of the corporate war machine, the U.S. handing out billions to defense industry insiders to build grossly expensive and ultimately useless items so the U.S. can try to control the planets, just like we try to control everything here on earth, for the benefit of the corporations.
Such a sad truth. The space program is of little value or benefit to anyone other than the defense industry. A sad end to what once seemed a noble and inspired calling of a few extremely brave men.
But on July 20, 1969, forty years ago, most people in the world stood in fields and parks and on streets and looked upward and believed, for the moment, that now we can do anything.