One Small Step

I was just a little too young to remember watching Neil Armstrong’s famous first step on the moon and his famous words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” However, watching later Apollo landings on television were among my earliest memories. From a young age, I was proud to be part of a species that had flown beyond the Earth and explored another world. Star Trek was on TV and I saw a direction humans might pursue. The space program was important in my house. My dad worked on the railroad but he understood how technology developed by NASA had far-reaching benefits. One of his friends worked at Goldstone Radar Tracking Station in Barstow, California and put together this display of Apollo patches for my dad. It hung in our living room when I was a kid and it hangs in my living room to this day.

In graduate school, I worked on a project automating a telescope to hunt for supernovae and dwarf novae. The computer we used was a Prime 300. The CPU cabinet was about the size of a refrigerator and it had four hard drives the size of small washing machines. I was smug in those days. I had a whole gigabyte of hard drive space to work with! In the same room as the supernova search computer were a bank of Apollo computers which had been purchased to record seismological data. In the 1980s, my Prime 300 was a primitive machine and the old Apollo machines looked like dinosaurs. I was amazed we had sent people to the moon using those ancient computers. It was a testament to how brilliant the people were who sent the first people to the moon.

In 2006, my wife and I had the opportunity to volunteer at the Ansari X-Prize Competition. What’s more, my daughter’s school class had a chance to spend the day watching the events. We saw demonstrations of updated lunar landing vehicles. We even got to see one of them lift off, fly a short distance, and land again. We met people working on space elevator technology. The highlight of the day was getting to hear Buzz Aldrin speak. My daughter’s class got to sit right up front. My daughter is the kid in the red baseball cap in the photo. Aldrin recounted his experiences training for the lunar mission and actually landing on the moon.

Today, on this 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the moon, I find myself reflecting on these experiences. I want to see humans continue the exploration of space. We’re doing great things with unmanned probes, but there’s so much more we could do if we had humans out in the solar system learning about our corner of the universe. We did great things fifty years ago and our technology is improving. We should continue to do great things. For those who suggest we have too many problems on Earth to spend time exploring space, I say we have an Earth with over seven billion people. Many of them are brilliant, strong, and brave. We can and should work on more than one problem at once. Our real enemies in this endeavor are greed and fear. If we defeat them, we’ve earned the stars.

14 comments on “One Small Step

  1. DAVID RILEY says:

    I am a little bit older than you are and remember the event quite clearly. I’ve been a little disappointed with the overall tepid interest folks seem to have for the 50th anniversary. If anyone’s interested, I ramble on about the moon landing on my blog

    • I’m out on the road this week and visiting places like space museums and observatories. What I’m finding is that while the powers that be in celebrity culture (the politicians, news media, and entertainers) haven’t deigned to say much about Apollo 11, the sites I’m visiting are packed with people talking about the moon landings. So people actually do care and are interested, but I definitely agree, it’s not being reflected by the powers that be in the entertainment industry.

    • I enjoyed your blog! I tried posting there but it seems I can’t unless I post through Google and I have some privacy/security issues with them. I was going to say I think the reasons there’s not more interest is 1) the moon landing was 50 years ago and 2) other than a few more landings little has been done there.

      I think many people have little concept of how the space program transformed communication, transportation, even medicine (not to mention leading to the development of the sports bra).

      • Thank you. As I mentioned in response to David Riley, I do think there’s a lot more popular interest than the powers-that-be who control the political-industrial-media complex want to acknowledge. I also find a lot of people actually do understand how much the space program benefited them. However, politicians don’t want to pay for it because it takes too many political cycles to see the results. The media and industry want to stay focused on the rapid buck. Research and development take time and money that will cut into their profits.

        The challenge is that people are sufficiently comfortable with the status quo that they don’t see the potential benefit of pushing the establishment into further space exploration. At this point, the return to the moon and going on to Mars probably requires a lot of grassroots organization. That’s one reason I support the Planetary Society, which is a good group working toward promoting these goals with both Washington and industry.

  2. The desktops, laptops, tablets, and cell phones we use are partially based on developments made during the space program. Discoveries and technology have had a major affect on the development of a great number of fields including communication, transportation, and medicine. It even led to the development of seemingly unrelated inventions including the sports bra.

    But there’s an aspect of the moon landing that’s often ignored, and that’s the fundamental human drive to explore. Whether we take the biblical Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden story literally or not, it portrays the first two human beings leaving their home and exploring elsewhere. Throughout history, exploration and development have gone hand in hand.

    Medieval China sent ships far away and had a thriving culture; when the exploration stopped, the culture started to stagnate. We live in a time where virtually the entire Earth (with the partial exception of the ocean), has been explored. There’s one, final frontier left: space.

  3. Alien Resort says:

    A gigabyte in those days was a lot.

  4. My post on your blog inspired my own blog piece on the same topic! It’s at

  5. dm yates says:

    I was 19 and I remember fondly the thrill of watching it. I’m with you on more space flights.

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