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7/20/09 Moon Landing Day!

40 years ago today, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon, while Michael Collins orbited above them in the Command Module. For the first time in the history of humanity, we stepped off our small blue planet and dared to touch the surface of another heavenly body.

The same impulse that pushed us to round the Horn of Africa and summit Everest and settle the American West and the Russian Steppe had propelled us off our world and onto another one.

By comparison, my small step across the Atlantic Ocean feels ... paltry. But the quest to know and learn and discover and hope and dream and explore...that quest lives on, in me and in millions of others.

* * *

40 years ago today, we walked on the moon. The footsteps are still there. After Apollo 11, we went back with Apollos 12, 13 (which circled the moon but didn't walk on it), 14, 15, 16, 17, and then canceled Apollo 18, because, enh, been there, done that.

In all of human history, 12 human beings have walked on a celestial body. All American. All men. All white. 24 men have seen the entire earth from space.*

Here is JFK explaining why we had to go (text here). I'd actually never heard the entire speech before; it's far better than I'd expected, setting "We do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard" in a context of human technological development from cavemen to the space age.

"Despite the striking fact that most of the scientists that the world has ever known are alive and working today, despite the fact that this Nation¹s own scientific manpower is doubling every 12 years in a rate of growth more than three times that of our population as a whole, despite that, the vast stretches of the unknown and the unanswered and the unfinished still far outstrip our collective comprehension." Why don't people talk like this anymore?

And here is the Onion's cover page from July 21, 1969, just for grins.

* Yes, of course, hundreds of men and women have seen Earth from the shuttles. But their orbit is too shallow to see the whole sphere; you only ever see an arc of the Earth, not the whole thing, hanging in space like the pale blue dot it is. Why 24? The 12 who walked on the moon, plus the six who waited in the command module for them, plus the crews of Apollos 8, 10, and 13, which also orbited the moon. But wait, you say, nine missions of three men each should be 27 men. My answer: Yes, but three men - Jim Lovell, John Young, and Gene Cernan - got to see it twice.

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