Goodnight Moon, Goodnight America
Michael Stafford recounts the experience of sharing the moon landing with his daughter, and realizing that she may not see a similar event happen in her own lifetime:
Historically, manned space exploration hasn’t been just another government program. It was an expression of our technological prowess and our faith in the future. And through the moon landings, we achieved something that transcended the boundaries of time, place, and culture, and spoke directly to the deepest longings and aspirations of the human spirit.
Going to the moon is what the United States will be remembered for, long after everything else we have accomplished has been forgotten.
This was brought home to me in a visceral way several weeks ago. I was in the backyard star-gazing with my six-year old daughter. The night sky has always been an amazing canvass for the human imagination. Looking up at it, we encounter the eternal- the deep depths of both space and time.
I was pointing out and naming some of the constellations and visible planets. Then we came to the moon. I told her that people, people just like her and I, had walked on the moon. At first, she didn’t believe me- going to the moon seemed impossible. So we went inside, and watched the Apollo 11 launch and landing on YouTube together.
It was a profound experience. The lunar landing is an event that, even after all these years, immediately evokes a sense of awe, wonder, and pride. I saw it on my daughter’s face.
But as we watched, my joy was mixed with sadness, because things like the moon missions are impossible now. Though we remain a big country geographically, we are fatally constricted in vision, spirit, and imagination.
We won’t be building moon colonies, or going to Mars. There will be no more great endeavors that capture the imagination- nothing like the Apollo program, the construction of the transcontinental railroad, or even the interstate highway system.