Posted by: Calmseas (Mike) | April 30, 2010

Ringside Seat III – A Giant Leap For Mankind

In 1956, the year of my birth, the earth was still flat. Well, it wasn’t really flat—we knew that. Of course, the earth had been scientifically shown to be a sphere hundreds of years earlier. But it wasn’t until 1946 that a V-2 rocket launched from White Sands, New Mexico, spun toward the heavens taking stunning video footage of a rapidly shrinking earth below. The curvature of the earth can be clearly seen in the film. This was, in fact, the first documented visual evidence of the earth as a sphere, and it came a mere ten years before my birth. However, in 1956 the earth was still flat, figuratively speaking, as there were no man-made objects in space except for those which briefly penetrated the atmosphere and quickly fell back to Earth once the rockets had burned out.

On the day that I was born, in December of 1956, the heavens were quiet, uncluttered by the implements of humankind. All of that would begin to change a mere 290 days later when the Soviet Union shocked the world by placing the first man-made satellite into orbit in October of 1957. That satellite was Sputnik. Its three-month, 37-million-mile trek around the earth marked the dawn of the space age, and of the space race.

Over the next 50 years, 6000 satellites would be launched from our planet, 800 of them still operational today. They serve diverse purposes from military eavesdropping to weather reconnaissance to communications. And there is also a steadily increasing aggregate of space debris circling the earth, the result of “fragments of spacecraft that have broken up, exploded or otherwise become abandoned,” as stated by the European Space Agency.

It stops me in my tracks to think that I have been on the planet for all of those 50-some years of the space age. I was a bit too young to have paid much attention to the Mercury project, but I lived and breathed the Gemini and Apollo programs and wanted—like so many school-kids of the time—to grow up to be an astronaut; it just naturally felt like life’s most noble calling.

In 1961, President Kennedy issued a challenge to the nation to land a man on the moon and return him safely to Earth before the end of the decade. This challenge spurred a nation toward attaining a lofty and seemingly impossible goal. Partly because of national pride, partly because of concern about losing our scientific leadership in the world, and partly because of a dread fear of falling behind the Soviet Union—and thus placing our freedom in jeopardy—our focused and concerted national effort during the space race was like nothing I’ve seen since.

A majority of Americans alive today have no recollection of the inspiring space-walks of the Gemini project, or astronaut Frank Borman’s reading from the Book of Genesis on Christmas Eve, 1968, as he and fellow astronauts James Lovell and William Anders orbited the moon aboard Apollo 8. Most Americans have no memory of the Apollo 11 mission, the astounding scientific and technological achievement that saw the first men from Earth land on the moon and walk its surface. Most Americans cannot say that they watched the live TV images of Neil Armstrong stepping onto the moon’s surface and uttering one of the most famous phrases in history: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” What an exciting time it was to be alive!

For all of the changes that have taken place in the world over the 53 years of my life, and all of the advancements in science, technology, and our knowledge and understanding about the universe, the moon landing remains far-and-away the greatest, most exciting, most awe-inspiring achievement of mankind during my lifetime. I can think of nothing else that has ever come close to the magnitude of that moment.

I consider myself very fortunate to have been alive to witness extraordinary history as it was made throughout the 1960s and especially during the first Apollo moon landing in the summer of 1969, a brief pinpoint in time when all of humanity was united for one fleeting moment of triumph.

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Responses

  1. According to statistics, the median age of Americans is at its highest level ever: 35.3 years. It’s hard to imagine so many people alive today missed all that. We got bragging rights! Unfortunately, we also got OLD. Heh.

  2. Great read, Mike! mmk gave me this link an’ it wuz good to read it.

    I too am one of th’ old geezers that actually saw th’ step made that day, an’ also heard what Neil really said……. what you wrote is what he MEANT to say, an’ th’ difference is minute, but definitely noticeable:

    “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

    The “a” is missin’ between “for” an’ “man”. He even stated on some tv interview that he had left out th’ a, but by th’ time he realized he’d done it, it wuz too late to make a fuss.

    So, there’s just another small piece of trivia for ya….

  3. Thanks for stopping by, Fox! Yes, I’m aware of the controversy over the missing “a.” From what I’ve read, they can’t positively determine whether the “a” was in there or not, even with all of the new-fangled audio technology. So I like to quote it the way Armstrong intended it, even if he may not have said it quite that way. I even read that he admitted that he missed it at one point, and then changed his mind later. So I don’t know. You are right about one thing though: It is a fascinating little bit of trivia!


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