Fly me to the moon again, man

I have always been something of a space case, I suppose. When I was younger, on one of the court-ordered visitations to Florida, my real father took me to see the fourth-ever launch of the Space Shuttle Columbia.

I have always been something of a space case, I suppose. When I was younger, on one of the court-ordered visitations to Florida, my real father took me to see the fourth-ever launch of the Space Shuttle Columbia.

I loved it. And I remember thinking how cool and futuristic it was that we now had a vehicle that could go into space and come back. Surely that meant vacations to the Moon were right around the corner, right? I mean, if we could get to the Moon 13 year earlier, surely we could get back with the technology we had then.

Well, this week marks the 40th anniversary of the greatest scientific and engineering achievement in the history of mankind: The Apollo 11 moon landing.

On July 16, 1969, three men huddled into a space about the size of a Volkswagon Beetle, strapped themselves on top of the biggest, most powerful Roman candle anyone had ever seen and put their lives into the hands of a room full of mathematicians in horn-rimmed glasses and short sleeved white shirts using computers that were the size of a garage and less powerful than your cell phone.

We had already proven we could at least get to Moon, having sent several capsules around it, most notably Apollo 8, the Christmas 1968 mission in which man first saw the Earthrise over the dead surface of the moon, a shining blue marble set against the black nothingness of space.

That photo is generally considered to be the first time man saw his own insignificance and was really able to grasp that we are all together on this planet. It’s still, to this day, one of the most stunning images in the history of man.

Apollo 8’s live television transmission on Christmas Eve, in which the astronauts read from the Book of Genesis while the Earth rose in the window and then signed off by wishing a Merry Christmas to “all of you, all of you on the good Earth” is as stirring a broadcast as has ever been made, and I am not a religious man.

On July 20, 1969, the entire world gathered around flickering black and white television sets to watch as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took a giant leap for mankind, leaving footprints forever on the lifeless surface of the Moon.

It is the preeminent achievement of both human science and engineering, American ingenuity and the 20th Century all rolled into one. Given how routine space flight seems today (though it is anything but), it is difficult to imagine what it must have been like back then.

We went back five more times (four times AFTER the harrowing Apollo 13 mission, a moon shot that had to be aborted due to an oxygen tank explosion while the crew was 300 miles up), the last being in 1972.

As Commander Eugene A. Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon, lifted off from its surface he famously said “As I take man’s last step from the surface, back home for some time to come — but we believe not too long into the future — I’d like to just (say) what I believe history will record — that America’s challenge of today has forged man’s destiny of tomorrow. And, as we leave the Moon at Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind. Godspeed the crew of Apollo 17.”

I wasn’t born until 1976, four years after the last man left the Moon. Despite Carnan’s hopeful words, we have never been back. We haven’t even left a low earth orbit since that day.

Which is depressing. Even Woodstock, which took place a month later, has seen return visits.

And yet the Moon is still out of our reach.

Perhaps one of the only things which I agreed with president Bush was his challenge of returning to the Moon. The former president and I did not see eye-to-eye about a lot of things during his time in office (you could count them on one hand and have fingers to spare), but I certainly do agree that returning to the moon should be a top priority.

Sure, the first time around we were goaded into it by thought of the Soviets claiming it as their own, but in the end, it was not about America or Russia, it was about Earth and humanity.

Even the lede in the New York Times reflected that: “Men have landed and walked on the Moon.” Not “Americans,” but “Men.”

In an article written this week by the man who covered the space race the first time around, John Noble Witford, he explains how he arrived at that sentence in his attempts to boil the moment down to its absolute essence.

He also recounts stories from Michael Collins, the guy who stayed in the ship while Armstrong and Aldrin went to the surface, about the three astronauts’ world tour following their return. At each stop, Collins said they were greeted with cheers of “We did it!”, instead of “Americans.”

Watching men bounce around on the surface of an other planetoid, with the home planet looming more than 200,000 miles off in the distance is one of the few things that can pull the entire species together.

In today’s day and age, could there be anything we need more than to remind ourselves that we are all in this together on this incredible special and beautiful planet?

We need a reminder. President Obama also supports NASA’s mission of a return to the moon by 2020 and despite the retiring of the Space Shuttle (the fourth-to-last scheduled mission is currently in orbit) and even plans of scuttling the International Space Station (scheduled for a fiery re-entry and splashdown in 2016), as well as a flagging economy, hopefully the missions will go through.

They did it in eight years last time and they had to figure it out from nothing. We should easily be able to do it again, given the advances in science and technology we have made.

But it will need continued public support and a watchful eye to make sure that costs remain in check. Who knows, a big televised and hyped race back to the Moon may even spur American kids to get interested in science and math again in hopes that someday they too can be involved in a Moon shot. You never know.

But to those brave men who strapped into the Apollo capsules and the thousands who leant their scientific and engineering knowledge to getting humanity as far away as its ever been, thank you for your vision and dedication.

To everyone else I say let’s go back to the Moon.

To view restored footage of the 1969 Moon landing, visit