The 50th Anniversary of Apollo 11 commemorates the single greatest achievement in the history of mankind.
In our world of rankings, I don’t think anyone can argue the point.
A man walked on the moon.
A member of species earthbound for thousands upon thousands of years, left footprints on that mysterious silver globe in the sky that inspired wonder and fear since man’s earliest beginnings.
Sometimes I think we underestimate the enormity of Apollo 11.
Perhaps it’s the subsequent unmanned pictures from Mars, and other planets in our solar system and the far reaches of the galaxy.
Or maybe the hi-tech special effects of Star Wars, Star Trek and other Hollywood space odysseys have made the grainy black-and-white images of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin bouncing along the lunar surface seem as archaic as “The Talkies.”
Much of the media coverage of the anniversary refers to Apollo 11 as a “historic spaceflight” or a “historic event.”
In an industry rife with overstatements, those descriptions seem anemically understated.
To me, it is the most wondrous moment of all time, and will be for the foreseeable future, at least until the colonization of Mars or the Resurrection, whichever comes first.
And yet the magnitude of it seems lost on most of the public -- even those old enough to remember the streets being deserted on that warm July afternoon as the Eagle landed in the Sea of Tranquility. Then came the wait.
It was long past our childhood bedtimes, about 11 p.m. when Neil Armstrong emerged down the ladder, and through the static and crackle of his helmet microphone, delivered the famous line that was confounding then, as it is now.
“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Armstrong insisted he said for “a man” but no matter how slow the audio is played, the “a’’ remains missing.
Still, for the 650 million people watching on television worldwide (a miracle in itself) they were witnessing the culmination of flight technology launched by the Wright Brothers only 66 years before.
Let that number sit with you awhile. In 1903, the Wright Flyer fluttered for four miles over the Outer Banks of North Carolina. A mere 66 years later, the Apollo 11 crew made a 400,000-mile round trip to the moon.
Armstrong was right about that “giant leap.”
Perhaps equally impressive was the President John F. Kennedy promised to put a man on the moon only eight years earlier in response to Russia’s early lead in the space race. Eight years. Think about that in relation to how our government snails along on projects today.
A month from now, the 50th Anniversary of Woodstock will also be celebrated. Ten summers ago, when the 40th of both came around, it seemed to me Woodstock got more attention. The Baby Boomer self-indulgence didn’t sit right with me.
Maybe I thought that because I felt then, as I do now, that the “industrial complex” of sports and entertainment has overrun the rest of our culture.
Men pushing the boundaries no longer get the attention of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay being first to reach Mount Everest, or Robert Peary being first to the North Pole or Roald Amundsen planting a flag on the South.
For instance … on an October Sunday in 2012, Felix Baumgartner parachuted from nearly the top of the Earth’s atmosphere, 24 miles up, reach a speed fast enough to break the sound barrier. It was a giant leap. But most Americans didn’t care. Football was on.
Two years later, a computer scientist named Alan Eustace, jumped from more than a mile higher. Remarkably, he wasn’t a military-trained daredevil like Baumgartner. He was the Senior Vice-President of Knowledge at Google and the stratosphere jump was his first. Again, no fanfare.
In December, Colin O’Brady completed a 932-mile, 54-day trek to traverse Antarctica. Except for people attuned to extreme wilderness marathons, crickets.
It’s too bad these feats happen in a vacuum. It seems many of us are too cocooned in the world of canned sports to pay attention to the new breed of courageous adventurers.
There are still “firsts” out there, delving deep into the far reaches of Earth, its oceans and its atmosphere, for those who want to push their limits -- and our imaginations.
If nothing else, that is the legacy of Apollo 11.