There are few moments, if any, that have been able to capture the world’s collective attention quite like the moon landing did a half-century ago. I was eight years old in July 1969, but I still remember seeing Neil Armstrong’s “one giant leap for mankind” with the rest of the world on live TV. I was at my grandma’s house with my mom and dad and younger brother (my family didn’t own a TV at the time). We all sat in front of her black and white tube to witness this monumental human feat – the result of uniquely American leadership, ingenuity, courage, and curiosity.
President John F. Kennedy captured that sense of purpose nearly a decade before the Apollo 11 mission ever took flight. “In a very real sense, it will not be one man going to the moon – if we make this judgment affirmatively, it will be an entire nation. For all of us must work to put him there,” said President Kennedy in his famous “moon shot” address to Congress in 1961. He also noted that “no one can predict with certainty what the ultimate meaning will be of mastery of space,” which was as much of a challenge to the American people in the 1960s as it is today.
For kids in 2019, the idea of space travel or having a person land on the moon isn’t as mind-bending as it was 50 years ago. Before the Apollo 11 mission, the idea of having a person walk on a lunar surface would have been relegated to the movies or the science-fiction section at the book store. Today, not only has American technology made it to the moon, but it has traveled tens of millions of miles to the surface of Mars. Those journeys were impressive milestones, but American ambition is as expansive as the universe itself, so in many respects, our nation’s space exploration days have just begun.
To continue successfully exploring unknown frontiers, both in space and here on earth, the federal government and American entrepreneurs must share a responsibility in committing to pursuing this cause. In Congress, I serve on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, which has jurisdiction over everything from planes, trains, and automobiles to the depths of the ocean and the far reaches of outer space. In fact, the committee just held a hearing with the administrator of NASA to examine the agency’s plan for deep space exploration.
Technology obviously plays a big role in all aspects of our lives, but to put its advancement in perspective, the cell phone that’s in your pocket today has more computing power than did the Apollo 11 Command Module that landed on the moon. That’s a remarkable thing to consider on its own, but then to think about the fact that we were able send a rocket into space, land on the moon, and bring three humans home safely (with 1969 technology) – how cool is that?
I’ve had the opportunity to spend time with one of those men, Buzz Aldrin, in Washington and in South Dakota. In fact, I was honored to host him at an event at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in 2015. It’s always amazing to hear him discuss everything he’s accomplished and everything he sees on the horizon, helping to inspire the next generation of wishers, inventors, and explorers.
Consider, again, for a moment all of the technological advancements our country has made since Armstrong’s “one small step” – in communication, in transportation, and in entertainment. Given that remarkable progress (in a relatively short amount of time, too), just think of where we can be 50 years from now. To those young Americans who will help get us there, I hope you see inspiration when you look at the moon and always think of it as America’s first “giant leap” – not its last.