Friday, July 22, 2016

"We choose to go to the moon, not because it is easy, but because it is hard."

Forty-seven years ago today,* a man first walked on the moon.

After six moon landings over a span of three-years, manned space travel was abandoned for a half a century. That fact is emblematic of our inwardly focused "modern" times.

And even though it looks like we're close to going back, it is arguably not the same.

Back in the day, space was for the people, not for spoiled internet tycoons.

The beautiful and inspiring documentary For All Mankind, chronicles the six successful Apollo moon landings, among other things employing stunning footage of men walking, running, jumping, falling and even careening at speed (in a moon buggy) across its surface. Many of these scenes have been all but forgotten.

Apollo 17 astronaut Jack Schmidt and the lunar rover on the edge of Shorty Crater

The film begins with a speech by John F. Kennedy, made at Rice University in 1962, outlining the plan to "land men on the moon and return them safely back to Earth" by the end of the decade.

To any space nut, patriot or mere aficionado of human achievement and the human spirit, it has to be one of the most inspiring speeches ever made.

Kennedy is a Boston Brahmin - "because it is hahd" - crossed with David Mamet - "and do the other things."

Here's the excerpt, with the actual text slightly rearranged (and one phrase altered), as it appears in the film:   
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. 
We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for all mankind. 
We shall send to the moon, 240,000 miles away from the control station in Houston, a giant rocket more than 300 feet tall, the length of this football field, made of new metal alloys, some of which have not yet been invented, capable of standing heat and stresses several times more than have ever been experienced, fitted together with a precision better than the finest watch, carrying all the equipment needed for propulsion, guidance, control, communications, food and survival, on an untried mission, to an unknown celestial body... 
And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God's blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked.
Watch the speech - the first two minutes of Part I of the film - below. Then, if you have time and you haven't done so already, view the entire movie. (The other parts are available on YouTube. You can also watch it on Hulu Streaming, among other places.)


*The Lunar Module touched down on July 20th at 20:18 UTC. Neil Armstrong planted his foot on the surface on July 21st at 2:56 UTC. This post was delayed one day due to American politics.

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