July 20th marks the 50-year anniversary of the first crewed mission to the moon, accomplished by Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins.
It was 1969, and the mission was highly televised. Tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union were white-hot, especially since it was ten years after the USSR landed the first man-made object on the moon. Since then, the Space Race became about landing a human being there and bringing them back.
With flying colors, the US landed three, two of which spent 21 hours on the lunar surface—within the dark “face” region called the Sea of Tranquility—with Armstrong taking the first step and Aldrin taking the second. The third astronaut, Collins, spent the mission orbiting the moon in a module, officially setting the record for being literally the most alone human being in the history of the universe.
“I was with my two cousins…and my uncle who was a WWII veteran,” recounts Prof. Sean O’Keefe. “We all sat around the TV, the four of us, and watched this absolutely amazing phenomenon.” Being 13 at the time, this no doubt had an impression on him as it had on so many other viewers sharing the very same experience. For O’Keefe his own path would also prove memorable as he would go on to become the Administrator of NASA from 2001 to 2004.
Making history is no joke, but, according to O’Keefe, Armstrong was “very approachable, a remarkably insightful fellow, and unbelievably modest.” While training for those few enviable steps on the moon itself is certainly admirable, Armstrong and the rest of the crew never lost sight of the roves of scientists behind the mission and the same level of respect that they too deserve.
So as we go about our days fifty years later, take a minute to appreciate the progress we’ve made as a species. Really think about the fact that we are 50 years beyond more than able to land people on the moon and deliver them back again, and know that the role you play in this grand and cosmic scheme—although seemingly small for you—is surely a giant leap for mankind.