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Leap for Mankind

Leap for Mankind

On July 20, 1969, I did not fully appreciate the historical significance of my parents’ gathering my brother and I around the television to hear Walter Cronkite say the famous words, “Man on the moon!” 

At the time, my daddy was filming the grainy black and white television screen showing Neil Armstrong’s “one small step for man and a giant leap for mankind” using his treasured Super8 movie film camera. I thought this was a little unusual, but he recognized it as a turning point in the world’s view of what was possible for humanity in the form of opportunity and space from that moment forward. 

Charles Fishman, author of In One Giant Leap: The Impossible Mission that Flew Us to the Moon, wrote, “The race to the moon didn’t usher in the Space Age, it ushered in the Digital Age”. In 1961, when the moon race kicked off, there was not a sense in popular culture of technology as a force in the everyday lives of consumers. He reminds us that Apollo didn’t take us to Mars, at least not yet. But it did bring us Alexa.

Custom-made Swedish cameras, called Hasselblads, which were first used on Mercury 8, an Earth-orbiting mission in 1962, captured the images with which most of us are familiar when thinking about the moon landing. In her book, Hasselblads and the Moon Landing, curator and photographer Deborah Ireland, writes, “Astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins had to share two Hasselblads. The photograph of the famous single footprint shows the mark of Aldrin’s boot, not Armstrong’s, and it was Aldrin who snapped the photos of Armstrong planting the American flag near Tranquility Base. 

Collins, who remained in the orbiting Command Service Module, was taking pictures on the way back to Earth when Armstrong asked what he was taking pictures of as they stared back at the face of the moon. “Oh, I don’t know,” Collins replied, “wasting film I guess.” 

It was not wasted. The photographs remain as astounding as ever, Ireland points out. 

Splashing down in the Pacific Ocean on July 24, 1969, the Apollo 11 mission accomplished a national goal President John F. Kennedy set in motion in 1961 to perform a manned lunar landing and return to Earth. 

Individuals worked for years to develop the technology and equipment to keep the three astronauts healthy and safe on the flight and back into Earth’s atmosphere. 

The value of the moon exploration continues to affect the world today. It was the beginning of gains in public health, satellite reconnaissance, biomedical equipment, lightweight materials, water purification systems, improving computing systems and a global search and rescue system, wrote historian David Brinkley in his book, American Moonshot.”

Completing this successful mission took vision for what could be accomplished, determination to make the seemingly impossible a possibility and the courage to take the first step in making the leap for mankind a reality. 

It’s that kind of vision education today must continue to nurture in our classrooms. 

Dr. Sherry Durham

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