The United States has contributed mightily to Western culture. That history is a point of pride of which Americans can justifiably take ownership. From clipper ships to the Panama Canal to the Internet, all of mankind has benefited from the restless American drive to strain the limits of our potential.
One achievement, however, stands out in terms of its daring and ability to inspire imaginations around the world. And even if you take away its heroic aspects, the remaining legacy of technological advancement is immeasurable.
When I was a kid, President Kennedy was the man who came on TV and interrupted The Flintstones. I had no appreciation for what he was saying, or its implications for the world at that time. Only later did I come to admire his leadership on the many challenges of his day — not the least of which was the grand adventure known as the Apollo program.
Most people have heard JFK’s words: “We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things; not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” They were spoken on September 12, 1962 at Rice University. Inspired by Cold War competition, he laid out a bold vision – one that few Presidents would have risked their legacies to advocate. If the Soviets were going into orbit, then we would go to the Moon — and not just with unmanned probes.
Talking about the Moon shot, Kennedy continued: “that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills. Because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept; one we are unwilling to postpone; and one which we intend to win.”
Well, we did win — and win big, as Neil Armstrong fulfilled the President’s promise and stepped onto the Moon’s surface just seven years later. It was a heady time, as Americans came together in support of a goal that will go down in history as a milestone in human achievement. A theme that I hope I did justice to as part of the novel The Kennedy Effect.
The exploration of space continues, with more international cooperation than ever. Who can doubt that many more adventures lay ahead as mankind pushes out to the planets, and ultimately, the stars? Perhaps some future leader will, as Kennedy did at Rice University, give an updated capsule of man’s historic accomplishments. Perhaps he or she will cite accomplishments in space that we can only dream of today. Perhaps a preview of that capsule can be found in today’s speculative science fiction.
One of the more moving film trailers that I’ve seen is the one for the 2009 movie Star Trek. As the iconic starship Enterprise takes shape in drydock, a dramatic musical score accompanies some historic sound bites from the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions. But as in reality, it starts with President Kennedy’s voice in an excerpt from his speech at Rice University: “For the eyes of the world now look into space”
Other sound bites include
“Godspeed, John Glenn.”
“The Eagle has landed.”
“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
And it ends with the recital of the starship Enterprise’s mission:
“Space: the final frontier … ”
I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t be touched by those few minutes. For all its flaws, the Sixties, gave us a reason to be proud, as well as an enduring vision for our future. May we boldly go where this grand adventure leads us. May we realize the new opportunities for knowledge and peace that President Kennedy hoped for at the beginning of the Space Age.