Sunday, July 19, 2009

Did the U. S. Peak When We Landed On the Moon?

I have a twenty-two year old nephew that likes to tease the older generation by pretending to believe that the moon landing was a hoax. I know that there are people out there who do believe that. I'm starting to wonder if it is believable to some people because we have never accomplished anything as a nation even remotely similar since that day in 1969.

That summer I was getting ready to begin High School. My best friend and I would pedal our bicycles to the high school and peek in the windows, trying to imagine our lives in that setting. The country was still reeling from the year before. In 1968 we suffered two assassinations of well-loved leaders, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy.. That's when the anti-war protests exploded, we watched the horrors of police brutality against other Americans at the Chicago Democratic Convention.

July 20, 1969 was the bright spot of that era. Rising to John F. Kennedy's challenge in his Inaugural address, the United States in less than a decade was able to have a man walk on the moon. In that otherwise low-tech age, we sat glued to our television while the "Eagle" lunar module left Apollo 11. We stared intently at the fuzzy grainy scene, listening to the disembodied voices of the Astronauts. We held our breath as Neil Armstrong climbed down the ladder and made the first steps on the moon. When he made his famous quote "One small step for man, one giant step for mankind." we could barely understand the words. Only when they were repeated later did we understand their significance. It was an incredible moment of triumph.

There are, and were those that argue that NASA and the exploration of space are a waste of money. I have always believed the discovery of new places and things, exploring new frontiers are always inspiring to the rest of the world. I think that this moment inspired a few generations to create technology and expand our scientific knowledge in ways that may not have happened otherwise.

Yet, since then, it has been an uninspiring world. Sure we had the Space Shuttle, and the various cameras showing us the surface of other planets-- but it was anti-climactic compared to the developments from 1961-1969. Most other developments and inventions in our world since then have either been for private profit, or for military might.

Twenty years after that, the Berlin Wall came down. Twenty years after that---we are a country heavily in debt, bogged down by two unwinnable wars. The economic situation of most citizens is on a downward spiral. Our educational system and the healthcare available to average citizens is below that of any other first world country.

Did we peak that day in 1969? I am starting to believe that we did.

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