[July 20, 2015] With my family and next-door neighbors gathered around our new color television set, we watched and listened in awe as Walter Cronkite announced the landing of the space module Eagle, manned by astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, Jr. That Sunday afternoon, July 20, 1969, would be for me and hundreds of millions listening in, the most inspirational of times. I remembered it being announced that the Eagle has landed (link here).
The American program that sent astronauts to the moon has its origins in U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s speech to a special session of Congress. On May 25, 1961, he said in part that:
“I believe this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.” – President John F. Kennedy
The United States was behind the Soviet Union space program. This was some of the background of a much more dangerous Cold War.1
But we know all that and probably studied it in school too. There are plenty of references that detail the events leading up to that famous landing on the moon and of the entire NASA program. What is important is that President Kennedy, in just a few words, defined a classic quest (a special kind of vision) that would prove irresistible to a nation threatened by the Cold War and recent Soviet Union successes in space. Congress would provide the financial resources and the nation would provide the talent.
There is always a story, sometimes often not told, one that is really where the “grunt work” occurs. We call it grunt work in the Army but it’s really just the day to day grinding out of small details and overcoming those things that get in the way of progress that matters. For the 400,000 scientists, technicians, and engineers that worked toward President Kennedy’s goal, it required both teamwork and good leadership. Many subsystems in the Apollo 11 spacecraft and Saturn rocket had to be designed, tested, and retested many times to ensure complete reliability. This is where leadership matters most.
Many remember Astronaut Neil Armstrong’s words when he stepped out onto the lunar surface when he said, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Yet, few of us remember the last lunar landing of the Apollo 17 mission and probably cannot even name those who walked on the moon. The Apollo program to put a man on the moon cost $24 billion (about $100 billion today); a staggering amount of money but justified by Kennedy’s mandate to beat the Soviets to the moon.
Our respect goes out to those who worked on the program. A special acknowledgement to President Kennedy and those who put the Apollo program together. Everyone who paid taxes and participated in the American society also carry some of the responsibility and reward for this great feat.
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