To the moon, America!

It was 40 years ago today that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first human beings to set foot on the moon.

To those who remember watching the grainy footage of that moon walk on their black-and-white televisions, the event was the cheer-inducing culmination of a national endeavor that began in response to the Soviet Union’s Sputnik launch. From John Glenn and the other Mercury astronauts, through Gemini, then the Apollo program and the devastating deaths of the Apollo 1 astronauts, we watched, listened and read about them all.

There have been other times when this very diverse nation rallied with a sense of determination, such as the months after 9/11. But there has not been, in the past 50 years, another program that engendered such widespread national pride and celebration.

After a few more moon missions, NASA retreated to the Space Shuttle, Space Station and missions that remained in Earth orbit. And even that program is set to come to an end in 2010.

It’s difficult to argue that, in the midst of the worst economic crisis this nation has faced since the Great Depression, we should spend billions more of taxpayers’ dollars. That would be irresponsible.

But we should be looking to the future, when the economy has turned around, and the necessity of reigniting our space program.

There are tangible benefits from doing so, of course. Satellite television, radio and other such communication, not to mention weather satellites, Google Earth and military applications, wouldn’t be available today if we had not raced to space following Sputnik. Who knows what future discoveries await?

And there are security issues to consider, if Russia, China or some other nations pursue more space exploration while we remain on terra firma.

But, there is a reason beyond that. Americans are explorers by nature and genetics. Our nation was settled by explorers from other continents, including those who crossed the Bering Strait eons ago. Our ancestors were restless pioneers, always searching for new and better vistas. We should continue that search in space.


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