Neil and Buzz were on the moon. Orbiting above, Michael Collins was more distant from his home world than any man ever before. Their reunion and splashdown marked a week when the world felt as one.
For a teenager completing his technology education, that summer posed no limits on the reach and social benefits of applied engineering and technology.
A nontechnical leader -- JFK -- had set a goal: getting a man on the moon before the end of the decade. It was clearly impossible at the time he said it. The US was far behind Russia in manned space flight. Industry cooperation was unheard of in peacetime, and a plethora of technologies would be needed to get men there and back.
Yet we as a people accomplished it. The world watched, prayed, and shared dreams -- smiling at the astounding black and white flickering TV imagery being shared during the most-watched live event in history.
The Apollo 11 mission in 1969 took the first humans to the surface of the moon. Millions of people watched as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin (pictured) alighted from the lunar module.
To me and to all my close friends, technical and nontechnical, Apollo 11 confirmed that, if you could dream it, evoke it, champion it, and finance it, almost anything could be accomplished. The Apollo program delivered benefits from microwaves, satellites, and computing to air treatment and countless other spinoffs. They launched industries that were impossible before NASA.
This optimism followed on the success of Salk and Sabin in eradicating polio while I was still a young boy. So many grade school classes had a child touched by polio. In my first grade class, it was Geoffrey, who wore steel braces. A smart mind was trapped by difficult speech and twisted limbs. It was a reminder every day that polio risk spared no child.
Later, my daughters grew up in a world free of iron lungs, with fresh water for deserts, enough fresh produce for all, and affordable jet-age transport. Amazing wired, wireless, and space communications shrank the world.
At the New York World's Fair several years before Apollo 11, so many "far away future" concepts took shape and substance. These touched and inspired tens of millions who visited. Picture phones instantly linked New York visitors with far away Disneyland. Dead lands could be made fertile. Sony showed portable TVs, home video recorders, and a computing calculator at the Japan pavilion. Science and technology benefits seemed to be vectors -- with no limits.
Oh, sure, there were notions of flying cars, and jet backpacks. One concept that was nearly as crazy? A computer in every home.
Sure, wars raged on. There was waste and death. But realized dreams lofted us above the noisy fray. If we could dream it, evoke it, and build support, we could do anything -- not just the United States, but we as an innovative people.
I recall feeling so fortunate to be in a society and an educational system that prepared me to innovate.
This past weekend, I was reminded that the dreams and the social benefits are still real. The noise level is higher than ever, yet we push on. I am fully aware of the skeptics and of the inertial, inefficient industry clout and unsustainable practices that are stubborn to yield to innovative mindsets. But the dreams exemplified on July 20, 1969, live on and will take flight.
-- Richard Doherty is research director of Envisioneering Group.