The Words that Launched Apollo – As Relevant as Ever
This month, people around the world will be marking the 40th anniversary of the United States landing Apollo 11 on the moon. We are seeing advertising for a special exhibition at the JFK library, a new rap video put together by Snoop Dog and Buzz Aldrin, and observances are planned by NASA, the Smithsonian and a multitude of other venues. The first moon landing remains as one of the most significant moments in human history, and no doubt we will repeatedly and often hear the words “we choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”
While the inspiring and familiar JFK quote has by now become a piece of pop iconography, the rest of President Kennedy’s speech is less familiar to most people alive today. What is amazing about JFK’s speech is that it rings as true today as it did in 1962. It is tinged with references to the Cold War with the then Soviet Union – a war of ideology not so different from what we see today as we consider developments on the Korean peninsula, China and the Middle East. It touches upon the subject of space weapons, a contemporary debate highlighted by the polar opposite policies of the last administration and the current administration. It is a story of the cost of courageous endeavor, the willingness to sacrifice for something better, and the vast benefits of knowledge, science and international prestige that come with the mastery of space.
And it is unequivocal in enumerating all the reasons the United States MUST remain the leader in the exploration, development and use of space, and the importance of increasing our investments in space.
There is no doubt that the mastery of space has been one of the defining characteristics of modern American life. There is also little doubt that our current investment in national space programs fails to measure up to the challenges laid down by President Kennedy nearly 50 years ago. As we mark the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11, we would do well to not just mark the incredible human achievement that the moon landings were. We should remember why we undertook to “go to the moon . . . and do the other things.” The rationale for major national investment in space is as compelling today as it was in 1962.
The view from here is that, to honor the extraordinary generation of explorers who took up Kennedy’s call, more is required than nostalgia. What is long overdue is an American space renaissance. As a nation, we should not settle for less.
Elliot Holokauahi Pulham