Moon Landing: 40 Years Ago, “One Small Step For Man, One Giant Leap For Mankind”


The man who took that first historical step  and said the famous words was astronaut Neil Armstrong as he stepped cautiously from the lunar lander onto the Moon’s Sea of Tranquility on July 20, 1969.

An estimated 500 million people on earth either watched the event live on TV or listened to it on the radio. The lunar landing was a huge international event both scientifically and politically, it gave the United States a much needed boost of morale as the war in Vietnam was turning into a complete quagmire.

The political will behind the success of the NASA program was President Kennedy. His unconditional dedication to the space exploration program was only partially motivated by scientific purposes.It was also very much in the geopolitical context & logic of the cold war with the Soviets. In the late 1950’s to the early 1960’s, the USSR was ahead of America in term of their own space program, and JFK did not want the Soviets to keep this technological edge.

One can hear this cold war sub-text even in some recent statements from astronauts:

That was a proud moment to be a military person and to salute the US flag on the surface of the moon.” recalled astronaut Buzz Aldrin, the 2ND man to ever step on the moon after Neil Armstrong. Aldrin added:

What I want to remember most is the glance between Neil and myself, with the engine shutoff, just that second after we touched down, because we had just completed the most critical door opening for space exploration in all of humanity.”

Unfortunately for NASA, July 20TH 1969 remains the high point of the space exploration program. Some astronauts are even saying today that we might have gone to the wrong planet by picking the Moon instead of Mars. What has been lacking for the past 40 years is the political will to build on the extraordinary success that was the Apollo program.

After years of neglect, President Obama has the intention to put back more focus on NASA and the space exploration program again, however the current 6 billion a year space exploration budget seems to be insufficient to generate any real progress in exploring the “final frontier”.


2 Responses to Moon Landing: 40 Years Ago, “One Small Step For Man, One Giant Leap For Mankind”

  1. Georgia Eliot July 20, 2009 at 12:21 pm

    It’s true none of the subsequent NASA programs are as flashy and splashy as the moon program, but they are adding to our basic knowledge of space, especially our own solar system. The Hubble Telescope, the shuttles, and the space station are nothing to sneeze at. Maybe it’s a good thing we are looking at space as scientists and not as capitalists or militarists.

    • Gilbert Mercier
      Gilbert Mercier July 20, 2009 at 2:09 pm

      Excellent points, thank you!

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