Nostalgia: Fondly remembering how things used to be

Today is one of those days when people of a certain age can’t help but become a bit nostalgic for times past, for today is the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing

On July 16, 1969, U.S astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins sat atop the mighty Saturn V rocket at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida before being blasted into space.

Four days later, on July 20, Armstrong and Aldrin left Collins orbiting the moon and headed for the lunar surface. With the words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” Armstrong became the first human to step onto an alien world.

We were told at the time that more than one billion people worldwide watched the achievement, hailed as mankind’s greatest. Additionally, and some might argue most importantly, the U.S. beat the Soviet Union to the moon, our scientific centerpiece of the Cold War.

More men would follow Armstrong and Aldrin to the moon over the next several years, in one instance hauling a dune buggy-like rover which enabled the visitors to cruise the lunar surface like a sand-covered beach. But with the shuttle program just around the corner, and few reasons remaining to go back to the moon, Apollo 17 in December 1972 was the last time NASA — or anyone else — sent an astronaut outside of earth orbit.

Yes, those were the days, weren’t they? But let’s not forget the tenor of the times. The Vietnam War was killing scores of Americans each week for reasons that still are debated. Young people took to college campuses and streets to protest. The Watergate break-ins were in the offing. And Richard Nixon was president.

Yet, after all was said and done, we managed to set aside our differences to the extent that a project like the Apollo missions was possible.

The question is, could we do it now? We’d like the automatic answer to be yes but we must confess doubts. The country is so badly divided these types of grand endeavors seem like a bridge, or moon, too far.

What’s the answer? Clearly, America is at her best when she’s challenged, as JFK did in the early 1960s in relation to the moon mission. But just as clearly, answering big challenges takes rather large dollops of both leadership and national will.

Sadly, we don’t see very much of either right now.