In the late 1950s and 1960s the United States was entrenched in a cold war with Russia. One of the keys to success, or so it was thought, was to demonstrate our technological dominance.
However, it was the Russians that first sent man into space. In response, the President of the United States proclaimed that man would land on the Moon by the end of the decade.
In July 1969 this prophecy was fulfilled. But it was more than a display of American technological achievement. Rather, it showed what can be achieved through determination and iron will.
What We Have Not Achieved
"I fully expected that, by the end of the century, we would have achieved substantially more than we actually did." Neil Armstrong noted that Apollo was meant to be a starting point, that the eye of those involved in Apollo was ever toward the future.
However, the advancement of manned space exploration dwindled, and since the end of the Apollo program, man has yet to again venture outside of low Earth orbit.
The cost, both financial and human, was considered too great to further the manned space program beyond low Earth orbit. Even now, with talk of a possible manned mission to Mars, the cost and obstacles remain the focus.
This mindset is not limited to NASA and the space program either. There are significant problems in this work, not the lest of which is energy concerns and the sustainability of the environment. These are serious issues with complicated solutions; solutions that will require significant investments of man power and resources.
However, we as a country, and indeed a planet, seem unwilling to once again pursue the impossible; content with the status quo. This begs the question, will we ever again see the advancement of human achievement like that seen in the 1960s?
While the space program was a source of national pride half a century ago, the public support for such work has dwindled. Other priorities have taken over, and most citizens of this country question whether space exploration is worth the cost.
The reality though is that true innovation arises out of projects like the space program, and if we are truly serious as a nation about moving forward and reclaiming our place among the technology leaders in the world, then we need NASA.
How Neil Armstrong Is Remembered
Having earned his pilots license before he could drive a car, Neil Armstrong was born to be aloft. His accomplishments were many, including piloting over 50 types of experimental aircraft and performing the first docking maneuver in space.
Armstrong was always ready for whatever the Air Force, NASA or anyone else threw at him, but he also did it with great humility. Despite the fame that the world wished to heap upon him, Armstrong preferred to remain out of the spotlight, rarely giving interviews and speeches.
He often felt guilt that he was awarded such enormous credit for an achievement that took the work of thousands of individuals.
Upon learning of Armstrong's passing friend and Apollo 11 lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin shared:
I am very saddened to learn of the passing of Neil Armstrong today. Neil and I trained together as technical partners but were also good friends who will always be connected through our participation in the Apollo 11 mission. Whenever I look at the moon it reminds me of the moment over four decades ago when I realized that even though we were farther away from earth than two humans had ever been, we were not alone. Virtually the entire world took that memorable journey with us. I know I am joined by millions of others in mourning the passing of a true American hero and the best pilot I ever knew. My friend Neil took the small step but giant leap that changed the world and will forever be remembered as a landmark moment in human history. I had truly hoped that in 2019, we would be standing together along with our colleague Mike Collins to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of our moon landing. Regrettably, this is not to be. Neil will most certainly be there with us in spirit.
While NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden, J. offered this sentiment:
Besides being one of America's greatest explorers, Neil carried himself with a grace and humility that was an example to us all. When President Kennedy challenged the nation to send a human to the moon, Neil Armstrong accepted without reservation. As we enter this next era of space exploration, we do so standing on the shoulders of Neil Armstrong. We mourn the passing of a friend, fellow astronaut and true American hero.