Unless you decided to have a “no technology” day on Saturday, you have most likely heard that Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, has passed away.
When asked later in his life about how he felt when he landed on the moon, he said that it made him feel “very, very small,” and his words in some sense carry more depth than he maybe suggested.
For Armstrong – as great an American as there ever has been – had the help of thousands of engineers, scientists, welders, machinists, and billions of dollars to complete what no other civilization in the history of mankind had done before or has done since.
It was 1961 when John Fitzgerald Kennedy said that America should go to the moon. It was only in 1959 that the U.S. began delving into human spaceflight. Yet, in three years, we had put John Glenn into orbit, and only eight years after Kennedy’s pronouncement, we had put a man on the moon. An estimated 500 million people around the world, today’s equivalent of roughly 1.4 billion, watched the latter achievement.
And yet, today, we cannot pass a budget through both houses of Congress in as much time as it took to send a man into orbit. The time it took to rebuild lower Manhattan after 9/11, when 1 WTC is completed in 2013, will be longer than it took to build an entire space program and send a man to the moon. The U.S. infrastructure of highways, bridges and roads – one of the greatest American achievements of the last century and long the backbone upon which almost all economic activity depends – is being left to rust.
Yet, instead of thinking about the big-picture, we yell and scream about taxation or an idiot Senate candidate’s remark, and proclaim it the biggest challenge of our day. Instead of working to have a lasting impact on the country for the generations that come after us, we request budget cuts in our transportation, space, and science programs in the name of “responsibility,” an idea more befitting of the title, “budgetary tilting at windmills.”
On the wall above my desk, there’s a framed copy of the New York Times from July 21, 1969. For me, the moon landing is more than just a day in history. It represents a crowning achievement, a time at which, despite the problems that faced U.S.' society – problems much larger than our own – men and women achieved a feat that will be remembered forever. It represents what a group of people and, yes, even what our government can do when there is the determination and focus to do something bigger than the problems of today or tomorrow.
In his speech at Rice University on September 12, 1962, Kennedy said, “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, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”
It’s time we thought about doing big things again.