Human beings once trod the moon. The first time man stepped foot on the lunar surface was 50 years tomorrow (July 20, 1969). Apollo 11, a marvel of mankind’s scientific reach, was followed by six successful moon landings. Man last walked on the moon in 1972. Our gaze turned elsewhere after that.

Once we proved to ourselves that we could send astronauts to the moon and return them safely to earth, NASA started thinking of other missions that would benefit the people of Earth. The moon missions led directly to the development of the space shuttle. There were 135 shuttle launches—two ended in tragic failure. 

The launching of satellites have become ho-hum years ago. The public lost its awe about shuttle launches. Manned missions to the moon have become something that happened a long time ago and it doesn’t have much to do with the lives of contemporary Americans. The 50th anniversary of the first moon mission has spawned a number of documentaries about the extraordinary efforts lift man from his terrestial landscape into the cosmos.

Have the hundreds of sci-fi movies in the past half century about galaxies far, far away made us immune to the wonders of space exploration? Perhaps. But it shouldn’t. When we turn our gaze to the stars, shouldn’t we tingle with the possibilities?

Man’s natural inclination to explore went from astronomically big to infintiesimally small with exploration into smaller and smaller technology for domestic use: small movie screens, small phones. We turned inward.

In the late 1950s, as the world entered the Sputnik era (the first man-made satellite sent into orbit around the earth), the ‘when I grow up’ dreams of kids shifted from fireman to astronaut; the collective imagination was stoked. Astronauts, for a time, became our national heroes: Alan Shepard (first American in space) and John Glenn (first American to orbit earth). They were heroes for a good reason: they were courageous, tooks risks and tempted death to achieve their dreams.

Naysayers will oppose further space travel spending because there are plenty of problems here at home. Limited budgets caused more harm to space exploration than anything else. Mankind has gained much more from our space programs that we could ever lose. 

Here are some inventions we use everyday that come directly from our space travel research: camera phones, CAT scans, LEDs, athletic shoes, wirelesss headsets, portable computer and computer mouse. Of course there are many more. Would these inventions have come about without space travel? Maybe, but they all were answers to problems that needed to be solved when traveling into outer space.

To many people, the first manned mission to the moon is ancient history. It is unfortunate that we have let this amazing giant step for mankind fade into the past. Neil Armstrong’s first step off the landing module into the dust of the lunar surface should not be reduced to a question in a trivia game. Let us be thrilled by man’s ability to burst out of his surroundings, reach for the unknown.

Just as much as we like to celebrate anniversities of events, we like to turn and face the future and move forward without trepidation but with passion and excitement. Who knows how far we can go when we foster the dreams of little astronauts and scientists. Mars?

(Lyndon Zaitz is publisher of the Keizertimes.)