At Blacklidge, we are always striving for excellence in all of our work. Excellence doesn’t come easily, but our challenges seem insignificant compared to the challenge that President John F. Kennedy placed in front of NASA and the American people, on May 25, 1961. Kennedy stood before Congress and proposed that the U.S. “should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” Keep in mind that the U.S. had only put the first American (Alan Shepherd) into space (not even an orbit) only 3 weeks earlier.
The obstacles in getting someone to the Moon are truly overwhelming and to do that in less than 9 years seemed impossible. Kennedy acknowledged the effort in his famous “Moon speech” that he gave a little over a year later (September 12, 1962) where he said: “We choose to go the Moon in this decade and do other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” He understood that the big challenges, the ones worth fighting for, are hard.
While NASA sent first the Mercury and then Gemini programs into space in the 60’s, they were a long way from landing a rocket on the moon. It wasn’t until February 21, 1967, nearly six years after JFK’s challenge, that NASA attempted the first manned Apollo flight. Tragically, that flight (now named Apollo 1) ended with the loss of the crew in a launchpad fire. This setback seemed insurmountable; subsequent launches went unmanned. It wasn’t until October 11, 1968, with only 15 months left to meet the goal, that they attempted another manned flight. Apollo 8 flew with a crew and returned home in triumph.
Then the floodgates opened… Apollo 9 on March 3, 1969. Apollo 10 on May 18, 1969, which brought the lunar module within 50,000 feet of the surface and returned. Then on July 16, 1969, 50 years-ago, Apollo 11 departed on its journey to put a man on the moon. It did so, on July 20th, 1969. “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” said by Neil Armstrong as he made his first step on the moon.
I remember watching the landing on the moon on a small (about 9 inch) black and white TV (no cable, 2 TV stations). The entire mission fascinated me, and it shaped my interest in the sciences later in life. However, I had no appreciation for the enormity of the achievement. It is only with the passage of many years that I have grown to comprehend its significance. Putting a man on the moon, and more importantly, bringing him back safely, seemed impossible for most of the decade of the effort. It wasn’t until those last few months that reaching the summit seemed possible.
So let’s take a moment to celebrate a huge achievement that happened 50 years ago this week. Let’s remind ourselves that it was made possible by thousands of men and women that faced impossible odds, but never gave up.