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To the Moon and Beyond Our Imagination

Mankind took a giant leap during the 1969 moon landing. Today’s space program is thinking much bigger

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“Where were you during the moon landing?”

My grandson asked me this not long ago as part of a project for his history class. The fact that the event is considered history makes me feel old, but at the same time, I’m blessed to have witnessed it firsthand.

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Of course I knew where I was on July 20, 1969. Like all important worldwide events, we always remember where we were when they took place.  

I was with my parents, my sister and her boyfriend in our living room. Sitting center stage was our “state-of-the-art” RCA color TV. The screen, a mere 19 inches, was housed inside a gigantic wooden console that took up one wall of the room. The TV had two large knobs, and whoever sat closet to the screen became the remote control.

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As a huge science fiction fan, I had been waiting months for this event. Throughout my teens, I’d devoured the works of Isaac Asimov, Frank Herbert and Robert Heinlein, to name a few of my favorite authors. And now here I was, watching the future they had conceived unfold before my eyes.

As the Apollo 11 spaceship landed on the moon, I moved closer to the screen. Too close, according to my mom, who admonished that sitting in front of the TV caused blindness. So far, I still have decent eyesight.

It seemed unreal to me. It still does, actually. When I look up at night and see the moon, it’s hard to fathom that earthlings have walked on its surface.

That night I watched in awe as Neil Armstrong stepped out of the module proclaiming, “One small step for man. One giant leap for mankind.” The picture was a grainy black and white, and I often had to squint to see. Nineteen minutes later, Buzz Aldrin joined him on that powdery surface. I was mesmerized.

I wasn’t the only one speechless. Walter Cronkite, broadcasting for CBS, could barely talk. And when he did, the profound words he had planned on saying vanished, and in their place, he uttered, “Man on the moon! Oh, boy. Whew, boy!”

I went to sleep that night thinking that by the turn of the century, we would have flying cars and travel around our cities like the Jetsons. We would be taking trips to Mars and Pluto, and my future children might even marry an alien.

The truth is, if someone born in the 1800s were dropped into today’s world, they would think they had landed on another planet with all the technological advances made in the last century — everyone looking at tiny handheld devices, social media, streaming having nothing to do with water, cars plugged into wall chargers. It would definitely be a foreign world to our grandparents.

NASA’s space shuttle fleet flew 135 missions carrying astronauts into space. They explored the moon and developed ways for humans to work in the lunar environment. Today humans live and work on the International Space Station.

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But we don’t yet populate other planets or live among aliens, as I had thought would be the case. (Once in a while, though, I meet someone who raises my suspicions as to their birth planet.)

Money, lengthy waits between flights, and tragedy caused a slowdown in space exploration. I remember when the Challenger blew up in 1986. My daughter had dreams of being an astronaut until that fateful day, and I’m sure she wasn’t the only one who was suddenly rethinking her career choice. The program shut down until September 1988, when it was relaunched with big ambitions to once and for all win the space race. In 2003, when the shuttle Columbia disintegrated upon reentry, NASA again halted space travel, and it eventually canceled the space program in 2011, leaving NASA to work with the private sector and send astronauts to the International Space Station via Russian shuttles.

Now that the space program has reopened, NASA aims to launch astronauts to the moon in 2025 and to Mars by the late 2030s or early 2040s. Elon Musk predicts a crewed mission to Mars by 2029 and an actual city, populated by millions, by 2050.

I hope these forecasts are as accurate as John F. Kennedy’s was when he made his famous “moon speech” declaring the United States would put a man on the moon by 1970.

Until then, I’m content to read science fiction, dream about traveling to Mars and marvel at how much of my life is now part of history, a great one at that.

Share your experience: Do you think humans will live on Mars in the next two generations? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.


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