To Walk In Their Footsteps

>> Sunday, July 19, 2009

You know what I haven’t done in a while? Talked about space exploration. Some rocket scientist!

However, given tomorrow is the 40th anniversary of the first steps on the Moon, it’s about time I did. Now, I can’t tell you I remember it. I was only a few months older than my baby (and, yes, that means I’ll be turning 42 in November) when we landed, so I don’t remember it exactly. But, I truly believe those steps changed the world.

I’ve talked before about human spaceflight and our program, its strengths and weaknesses (on In fact, I could talk indefinitely on this.

But what I want to talk about today is that actual first excursion on the surface of the moon and what that means, even to those of us today. Because it’s more than a couple of guys putting on complex balloon with a fragile life support system strapped on their backs and stepping out into abrasive dust in an unforgiving environment with no way to be recovered if any little thing failed. It was more than they were brave and clever or that hundreds to thousands of intelligent people had put their all into making this possible.

At that moment in time, for that instant, we knew that there was no limit to what people could do if we wanted it hard enough. In less than fifteen years we’d gone from being trapped within our atmosphere to becoming an interplanetary species.

I think that accomplishment, that moment, had a huge impact in that world, scared, on one hand, by technology what with nuclear threats filling the world around them but also still tied to the world of their parents, a different world where refrigeration, flying in planes, communications like movies, radio, television, and telephones, medical advances, electricity and running water were still fresh and new. Seventy-five years before we walked on the moon, children were still born at home, vaccines were all but unknown, there were no (or very little/few) planes, cars, distributed electricity, common running water, radio – that’s within living memory.

It changed the rules and, I think affected everything that followed, even if it had nothing to do with space. True, space activities provided the means for instantaneous communication around the world, via media, via telephone. It provided pictures and information on our world and the universe around us we’d never known. But that moment, I think, was part of the radical change in the life around us and what we wanted from life. For that moment, there were no limits in front of us and the memory of that moment flavored what we did and how we lived after that. Some of that, of course, wasn’t good.

But some of that was incredible. And we need it back. Our interplanetary status – surely such things have a time limit. That sense of power is eroding leaving too many people complaining instead about all the things we can’t do, can’t accomplish, can’t make better. It’s too big, too hard, too expensive. It will take too long.

There was a time when some remarkable people proved that wrong. Let’s not forget it. Let’s get back on the path.


  • Roy

    *Standing ovation*

    Hear, hear!

  • The Mother

    Clarke's second law in action. Wonderful.

  • Stephanie Barr

    I'm ashamed to admit I had to look up Clarke's second law, but it's quite apropos. I'll be adding them to my quote list.

    "The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible."

    Thanks, Roy.

  • Mike

    "Its One Small Step for Man, One Giant Leap for Mankind" N. Armstrong, July 20, 1969. What will be the quote when man first steps foot on Mars?

  • Aron Sora

    This was a perfectly executed call for humanity to return to the moon. Something that should be presented at a TED conference. Very nice, this post is truly inspiring and should be a guiding document, not only for the space community, but for humanity.

    I can't come up with much to say, but I really thought this was one of your best posts.

  • Stephanie Barr

    Mike: I have no idea, but I hope I hear it in my lifetime.

  • Relax Max

    The first human to walk on the moon is rather reclusive as celebrities go, a very private person. So, I suppose, it was out of a sense of duty to the anniversary that he gave a rare interview. But even then, it was business as usual without undue emotion:

    Q. - Describe your emotions once you made the landing.

    Neil Armstrong - There were a few system details that we had to take care of immediately. Once we got through those, there was time to shake hands. We had made it. So far, so good. But there wasn't a lot of time for enjoying the moment. There were other things to do.

    Q. (On the importance of the first words spoken from the moon)

    Neil Armstrong - I didn't think it was particularly important. But I knew other people might.
    For Armstrong and Alden (and Collins, of course) they were just doing their job.

    It was a great time for America.

  • Relax Max

    Aldrin. Buzz Aldrin. Sorry.

    And the LAST man to walk on the moon was a Senator from my state. I have had the pleasure of meeting two men who walked on the moon. At least walking down a receiving line. I guess that counts.

  • Relax Max

    I mean the "most recent" man to walk on the moon, not the "last". Never say "last", right?

    I'm going now...

  • Stephanie Barr

    I've met a couple myself, but not Neil Armstrong. I was fortunate enough to be in a meeting discussing EVA lessons learned from Apollo and we had five crewmembers there. It was not only a wealth of useful information, it was a real honor to be in the same room with them.

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