Reaching for the Moon
On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy stood before a special joint session of Congress and laid out a dramatic and ambitious goal before the American people. Said Kennedy; “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.”
It was a monumental challenge, to be sure, given the fact that the United States was lagging far behind the Soviet Union in terms of space technology and had experienced nothing but failure and disappointment. As a result, to many it seemed an impossible goal.
Kennedy’s words, however, struck at the heart of America’s imagination and pioneer spirit. His magnificent goal, his passionate belief in that goal, and the magical, mystical nature of the very idea of going to the moon, galvanized and energized the nation. There would be more failures and disappointments, more heartaches and setbacks, but on July 20, 1969 that goal was fulfilled as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first human beings to step foot on the surface of the moon.
We would go back. Five more missions would set 10 more men on the moon’s surface. The ultimate and unimaginable goal reached, the process became routine and the American public – and its politicians – lost interest. The moon program was eliminated.
Nearly 50 years have passed since the last Americans walked on the moon. No one has followed in the dusty footprints of those 12 men. It is apparent that none will, at least not soon. NASA’s Constellation program, designed to return man to the moon, has recently been cancelled. It was simply deemed too expensive.
Politics aside, I wonder if there are not times when we need the challenge of exploring the most vast, most forbidding frontiers, regardless of the cost. Often it is those explorations that pave the way for the conquering of other frontiers. In reaching the moon we proved we could do it. We proved that we could focus time, energy, and resources in a massive way to achieve what had never been achieved before. We proved that a country such as ours, united behind a common cause and committed unconditionally to it, could accomplish virtually anything.
Simply put, we were a better country for having run the moon race.
Such is the same for each of us. We are better people when we are dreaming our dreams and pouring our hearts into their fulfillment. When we succeed, when we reach the moon, we are emboldened to reach out to even more distant stars.
The importance of undertaking great challenges is best expressed in yet another Kennedy speech, this one given at Rice University in September, 1962. Kennedy reminded his listeners of the challenge, the cost, and the purpose of pursuing high and lofty goals.
“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things”, Kennedy said, “not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win…”
Each of us has some mountain we long to climb, some dream lingering deep in our hearts. We must keep reaching for the moon, stretching ourselves in its pursuit, that we may find the joy and satisfaction that comes when we can declare success at the end of the journey.
America quit reaching for the moon and I think something died in us when we did. I would challenge each of us to not make the same mistake.