Thursday, July 16, 2009

Reaching for the Stars

Forty years ago today, man embarked on the most significant journey in his existence on this planet — Apollo 11's trip to the moon.

The world held its collective breath on July 16, 1969, as the rocket lifted off. Four days later, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took their first steps on the moon.

In today's Washington Post, Aldrin repeats a call he issued at last month for missions to Mars.

This time, Aldrin puts a little more flesh on the bones of his proposal. But he is clear that it is not an objective that can be met in a few years. It is a long–term project.

"If we avoided the pitfall of aiming solely for the moon, we could be on Mars by the 60th anniversary year of our Apollo 11 flight," he writes.

Aldrin insists that this plan "wouldn't require building new rockets from scratch, as current plans do, and it would make maximum use of the capabilities we have without breaking the bank. It is a reasonable and affordable plan — if we again think in visionary terms."

July 16 is memorable for a lot of things — visionary in nature or not.
  • In 1945, the atomic age began with the first detonation of a nuclear weapon in a test near Alamogordo, N.M. Less than a month later, the United States dropped two nuclear weapons on Japan, and World War II came to an end.

  • In 1973, four years after the launch of Apollo 11, Alexander Butterfield revealed the existence of a taping system in the Nixon White House during his testimony before the Senate Watergate Committee. The tapes that were produced by that taping system ultimately led to the end of Nixon's presidency.

  • And, in 1999, John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife Carolyn and sister–in–law Lauren died in a plane crash off Martha's Vineyard. The timing of the crash was ironic, since Kennedy's father had been the one who challenged America to go to the moon in the early 1960s.
In fact, although July marked the triumph of President Kennedy's vision, it has also been a month of tragedy for his family.

Not only did his son die in that plane crash, but also, while Apollo 11 was on its way to the moon, President Kennedy's youngest brother, Ted, drove his Oldsmobile off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island, injuring himself and killing his passenger, 28–year–old Mary Jo Kopechne.

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