The moon really brings out the best in us.

Since the very beginnings of mankind, to countless peoples both known and lost to history, the moon was an object of fascination and mythology — a heavenly body that existed out of our reach. They looked up at the moon and sensed the presence of something bigger than themselves.

Fifty years ago this weekend, hundreds of millions of people around the world once again looked up at the moon in wonder. They watched as human beings — two Americans, Neil Armstrong and Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin — set foot for the first time on land not of our Earth.

It was the culmination of work by the 400,000 people who worked on the Apollo program, fueled by $25 billion in taxpayer funding — and the desire amid the Cold War to show the world what the United States could accomplish.

The knowledge gained from the mission was extraordinary. Hundreds of pounds of moon rocks, core samples and dust were brought back, and eventually gave us a unprecedented view into our own planet’s history.

And in the process of figuring out how to send men and materials 240,000 miles, land them on a relative pinhead on unknown and unforgiving terrain, then get them back safely, advancements were made that define life today. The internet, cellphones, television and GPS use elements of the technology developed for the Apollo program. So do sunglasses, cordless tools and smoke detectors.

Men and women created the technology necessary for the moon landing, sometimes building on prior knowledge, sometimes fashioning things out of thin air. There was no template to follow or prior experience to gain comfort from.

And after liftoff, it was the steel of the astronauts on the Apollo landing craft and the men in the earthbound control room that carried the day. They worked under the heavy knowledge that any mistake or accident could end the mission in tragic circumstances.

Indeed, problems with fuel, navigation and communication arose, with no room for error. Again and again, human endurance, focus and competency won out.

Few of us understand the intricacies of space travel. But rocket propulsion or satellite orbits are secondary when it comes to the Apollo mission and its place in our collective history — it’s really about pushing the limits of human achievement to solve problems once thought impossible.

Since the dawn of time, humans had thought of the space between Earth and the moon as hopelessly impassable. Even when President John F. Kennedy declared in 1961 his goal of putting a man on the moon, it was criticized as folly.

But less than a decade later, on July 16, 1969, a Saturn V rocket shot Armstrong, Aldrin and Michael Collins into space. Seventy-six hours later, the three men and their spacecraft entered lunar orbit. The next day, Armstrong took his “giant leap for mankind.”

The entire world watched as the United States for the first time in history pushed the human frontier beyond our own planet. Together they felt the limits of human achievement being pushed out further than what was thought possible.

The people of Earth looked up at the same moon at the same time, and knew they were part of something bigger.

 


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