Stepping on the moon required a giant leap

Saturday marks the 50th anniversary of one of the most amazing events in world history. On July 20, 1969, my family and our neighbors watched via fuzzy gray images as Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface of the moon with that famous “one small step,” which marked “one giant leap.”

My dad worked for Collins Radio/Rockwell and helped make the radio equipment that carried the astronauts’ voices over the many missions leading to Apollo 11 and afterward. It was one of his proudest achievements in life — right up there with catching 13 passes against Dallas Jesuit High School.

George Will says this of the US effort to put a man on the moon by hearkening back to President Kennedy’s 1961 challenge to do just that:

“Kennedy’s goal was reckless, and exhilarating leadership. Given existing knowledge and technologies, it was impossible. But Kennedy said the space program would ‘serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills.’ It did.”

And, Will added this from Robert Stone and Alan Andres that made me think of my dad:

“The American effort to get to the moon was the largest peacetime government initiative in the nation’s history. At its peak in the mid-1960s, nearly 2 percent of the American workforce was engaged in the effort to some degree. It employed more than 400,000 individuals, most of them working for 20,000 different private companies and 200 universities.”

The US is a special place because of its founding principles and the people who have come from all over the world to throw in their lot with this grand experiment in democracy. The nation is indeed strong and powerful, but the things that hold us together seem so fragile right now.

It’s not popular any longer, but I still like the “melting pot” imagery of America as a place where different people come together to be something new and different — even better. My ancestors were mostly English, and I love to visit England, but I’m not English. I’m an American, connected to other Americans who come together to amazing things, like defeating fascism and landing people on the moon and bringing them home safely.

As long as humans write history, they will be writing about this thing called the US and all that we accomplished. Let’s not tear ourselves apart.

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