This week the world celebrates the 50th anniversary of one of mankind’s greatest accomplishments, the Apollo 11 mission to the moon.
In 1961 — a time when calculations were done on slide rules and the fastest computer was no match for a contemporary cellphone — President John Kennedy made an audacious promise: That our nation would send a man to the moon and return him safely home ... and that we’d do it before the end of the decade.
We would do it, he said, because it is 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 ... .”
Kennedy did not live to see the fulfillment of that bold dream, but on the night of July 20, 1969, the Eagle landed in the Sea of Tranquility. With the whole world watching, astronaut Neil Armstrong took the first step onto the lunar surface and declared it one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.
Others would follow — a total of 12 Americans have walked on the moon — and the human reach into space has expanded ever outward, sending unmanned probes throughout the solar system and beyond. We’ve helped construct an international space station — a laboratory in orbit and a model for peaceful cooperation with other nations in the interest of all — and launched a giant space telescope that has revealed the mysteries of unreachable galaxies.
Most of the Apollo heroes have died. Only four of our moon veterans survive, and all are in their 80s. Our nation has vacillated on the idea of returning to the moon, heading on to Mars or doing both. But it doesn’t take the vision of a John Kennedy to believe our destiny will take us further into space eventually.
Sleepy, proud Americans stared at their television sets that night 50 years ago and saw that we could dream big dreams and accomplish them.
We still can.
Mayor G.T. Bynum speaks during the 1921 Mass Graves Public Oversight Meeting.