DURANT, Okla. – Hello again, everyone! Four decades ago this week, Apollo 11 carried the first men to set foot on the Moon.
On July 20, 1969, after a four-day trip of a quarter-million miles, mission commander Neil Armstrong piloted the lunar module “Eagle” to the Moon’s surface. A few hours later, he became the first man to walk on another celestial body.
The stage for that historic event was set eight years earlier as a new President stood before Congress. “I believe this nation should commit itself, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth,” President John F. Kennedy told sometimes skeptical lawmakers.
It was an unprecedented confluence of events that led to the Apollo moon landings. In the early 1960s, almost every “first” in the space race belonged to the old Soviet Union. Not only was America’s national prestige on the line, our national security was at risk.
Many believed, rightfully so, that any of America’s enemies with rockets powerful enough to put men into space could also launch attacks from space. President Kennedy’s advisors knew that in a sprint, America could not beat the Soviets in space; they were too far ahead.
It would take a larger, more ambitious goal – a marathon race – to give the United States a realistic shot at pulling ahead of the Soviets. The most ambitious goal was to land a man on the moon – and do it in less than nine years.
Our place in the world as a superpower and our security were both on the line. Something just as important but less tangible was driving the race to the moon. President Kennedy eloquently explained it during a speech at Rice Stadium in September 1962:
“But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic?” he said. “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. Because 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, and the others, too.”
It is challenge that brings out our best, as individuals, as a state, as a nation. Big goals allow us to see what we can achieve. In today’s world – and the difficult economic times we face – it is easy to get discouraged.
The flight of Apollo 11 reminds us that we can achieve virtually any goal if we work hard enough and dream big enough. As Americans and Oklahomans, that capacity for excellence is our birthright.
Thanks again for reading this week’s “Senate Minute.” Have a great week, and may God bless you all.