Today seems like a perfect time to remind the world of what humans can achieve if they just stop calling each other names and killing each other. Not only because that message is so sorely needed now, but because today is the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s vision of a man on the moon becoming a reality. It’s a day to celebrate an astonishing landmark achievement for mankind, for science and (pardon my political incorrectness) for the United States of America. It’s also a day to honor three of the greatest Huck’s Heroes in history: Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins.
While other kids in the '60s had heroes in sports, TV or movies, my heroes were the astronauts. I knew all the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo astronauts by name and watched every launch. But Apollo 11 was different. Those of us who saw it live were blessed to witness something that had never been seen before in the entire history of the world.
On July 20th, 1969, my family in Hope, Arkansas were united with billions of people worldwide as we sat riveted to the flickering, ghostly images on our black and white TV. CBS News icon Walter Cronkite explained this miracle of science, as the Apollo 11 landing module, the Eagle, touched down on the moon.
And then, the whole world held its breath and watched in silent wonder as Neil Armstrong emerged from the capsule and took the first step off that ladder, the immortal “one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” He was soon joined by Buzz Aldrin as they became the first humans ever to stand on ground that was not of this Earth.
After 2-1/2 hours on the lunar surface, Armstrong and Aldrin blasted off, rejoined Collins, who was orbiting alone in the command module, and they returned home safe and sound, which itself was as much of a miracle as the successful moon landing. They did it in a spacecraft that to modern eyes looks impossibly small and fragile, with far less computing power than an iPhone has today (although without the pioneers at NASA, there wouldn't be iPhones today.) But it’s still more awe-inspiring than any modern CGI-filled space adventure movie.
The astronauts left behind a bag containing a gold replica of an olive branch, a disc with goodwill messages from the leaders of 73 nations, and a plaque that reads, “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon, July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind.” It was the best message mankind had to offer. And it was delivered by the three best men mankind had to offer.
There were critics of the space program then and now, but I believe it’s one of America’s great legacies, and slashing its budget was incredibly shortsighted. If you’ve ever had laser surgery, GPS, a cell phone, a PC, satellite TV, steel-belted radials, a dust buster or any one of a million high tech innovations, then thank the space program. Maybe cures for Alzheimer’s or heart disease will be next. Our astronauts are true heroes, and every day we live better lives because of them.
Still, we should support space exploration not just for the benefits, but because exploring is a God-given drive. It's in our natures always to be striving to press onward and upward. We should cultivate that impulse, not curtail it.