It’s hard to believe, but Saturday is the 50th anniversary of man stepping on to the moon for the first time. It seems like only yesterday.
On July 20, 1969 Neil Armstrong took the fateful first step when he stepped off the ladder on to the surface of the moon uttering the amazing quote of, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
For those of us old enough to remember the event, I’d bet good money you can remember exactly where you were when this event took place.
I was at my Grandma and Grandpa Kronberg’s house in suburban Grand Rapids, Michigan. Almost all of our extended family members were there watching the historic events unfold on television. Five of my aunts and uncles were present, as were over 25 of my cousins.
We were gathered in the tiny living room of my grandparents, packed in like sardines in an unopened tin. I remember that everyone was excited to see the historic moon landing and walk, and we were glued to the television watching legendary Walter Cronkite narrate what was happening.
Our family was enthralled with the whole man on the moon thing, and my old hometown had a special bond to the space race. Roger B. Chaffee, one of the three astronauts who was killed in the fire that also took the life of Virgil “Gus” Grissom, was one of the proud sons of the city of Grand Rapids. Everyone in Grand Rapids was watching with pride when the United States finally reached the moon and then stepped foot on it.
I was especially proud and interested as a young man entering his teens. From my earliest memories I had always dreamed about traveling through space. I was an avid watcher of the night sky, and to this day I find great excitement and relaxation looking up at the stars at night and wondering what mysteries our galaxy and the universe holds.
At my young age in the 60s, my expectation was that we would be actively exploring space as the millennium turned. I thought we would have already explored Mars and would be expanding our exploration to deeper points of the galaxy. We left a plaque on the moon that said, “We come in peace in the name of all Mankind,” but have since abandoned our commitment to the exploration of space. It has been a major disappointment to me that our space program has been allowed to be minimized over the past 50 years, and I hope someday we will regain the vigor, desire and wherewithal to pursue the unexplored reaches of the galaxy and beyond.
As the Apollo program came to an end, and the space shuttle age dawned, I expected the United States to build an active space colony. I can remember where I was the day the Challenger exploded and how I felt when it happened. However, as sad as that day was, I was happy to see that the United States was still committed to the space effort.
Sadly, today that effort is foundering. There is not a visionary commitment to the program, and I believe that presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Baines Johnson must be turning over in their graves. Their quest and vision to be the explorers of the universe, to invest in the technology and training required to explore the galaxy, and to glean the benefits to humanity and to our national security required a national commitment to the effort. Not because it was easy, but as President Kennedy said, because “it is hard.”
As time has marched on, I still ponder what the universe holds. I am intrigued by the solar system and follow the news on space and everything related to it.
While I have come to the sad conclusion that I will never be able to see space myself, I have passed along that love of the universe to my children. My youngest son Joe wanted to be an astronaut. He made that revelation to myself and his older sister one night while the three of us were sitting on the rim of Bryce Canyon National Park. We were gazing at a brilliant star-lit night overlooking the canyon. We encouraged Joe to pursue his dream, and he did. He attended the University of Michigan and studied to become an aerospace engineer. After graduating, he is now working for the Grumman company working on satellite technology. I give thanks for this, and it is my hope that maybe one day one of the members of my family will be an astronaut or travel through our solar system.
It would be the culmination of a lifelong dream.