In the coming days, you'll be seeing many celebrations of the 40th anniversary of the first Apollo moon landing, including ours on July 20. What follows is a restatement of the lessons of Apollo and why the organizing principle of Apollo remains relevant today. We invite readers to weigh in with their own suggestions about how the lessons and inspiration of Apollo might be applied to today's problems.
On a blistering hot day in September 1962, the President of the United States traveled to Rice University's football stadium in Houston to reaffirm America's commitment to landing men on the moon by the end of the decade.
Returning to Texas 14 months later, John F. Kennedy was gunned down on a Dallas street.
The Apollo program continued.
In January 1967, three Apollo astronauts were asphyxiated in a launch pad fire aboard Apollo 1. The American space program was set back at least nine months, but Apollo continued and Kennedy's goal was achieved.
With the U.S. economy foundering and the future uncertain, it's again a good time to recall that Americans can overcome tragedies, can come together to achieve economic and political goals. The rest of the world also embraced Apollo as representing the best of American innovation. "We did it!"--not "They did it"--the world proclaimed when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took the first steps on the moon 40 years ago.
|Earthrise, photographed by Bill Anders of Apollo 8 on Christmas Eve, 1968|
The motivation is the same today as it was in the heady days of Apollo: "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," Kennedy said in his Rice University speech.
The President then laid down the challenge for a generation of engineers: "We shall send to the moon, 240,000 miles away from the control station in Houston, a giant rocket more than 300 feet tall, the length of this football field, made of new metal alloys, some of which have not yet been invented, capable of standing heat and stresses several times more than have ever been experienced, fitted together with a precision better than the finest watch, carrying all the equipment needed for propulsion, guidance, control, communications, food and survival, on an untried mission, to an unknown celestial body, and then return it safely to earth, re-entering the atmosphere at speeds of over 25,000 miles per hour, causing heat about half that of the temperature of the sun."