I often have trouble relating to people, especially the younger they are, the miracle of the moon landing back in July 1969. The miracle of the moon landing was one created by a country, a brilliant team, and three brave men who dared to go where no one had gone before. The footprints left in the regolith by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin are not the amazing event that leaves me in awe the most.
We, the human race, were truly bound to the breast of Mother Earth without the mechanics or the natural ability to leave her surface until Orville and Wilbur Wright engineered the Wright Flyer in 1903. The creation of mechanically powered flight allowed us to go beyond gliding on the winds with gravity pulling us down, down, down. Now we could pull away from that bond and fly higher and higher. The Wright Flyer was fragile, constructed of spruce, glue, and canvas, yet it carried us as a people into a new age.
The Junkers J 1, the first metal plane (steel since duralumin, a strong aluminum, was just invented and not available), was built just 12 years later and resembles the shape of most of today’s modern aircraft. The average plane at the time was still built of canvas and wood, but the Junkers was a proof of concept that metal would be the future of flight. The creation of the liquid-fueled rocket by Goddard 23 years after first flight wouldn’t find much practical use at the time but would fuel the imagination and academics in the future.
The second world war happened and out of military necessity we built planes that went faster, higher and were larger than we had ever imagined. Each of them was driven by the propeller, an automatic windmill pulling the plane forward.
The war also gave birth to the Jet Age with the creation of the Heinkel He 178 V1. The German aircraft was far ahead of its time and the mass production technology gave it an extra boost.
The Jet Age begins in the 1949 with the development of the commercial airliner and truly opens the world to travel with speed and efficiency.
In 1961, John F. Kennedy issued a challenge to the American people to put a man on the moon within the decade. He asked us to figure out how to build a rocket, not have it blow up, put a man on that rocket and send him to space and have him return alive. Oh, and land on the moon in 9 years. And we did all of it.
We broke the bonds of gravity and ascended to another world in the span of 66 years. The average life expectancy in the USA is 78.8 years, so in the span of a lifetime we went from the earth to the moon. Landing on the moon was a man-made miracle, but the achievement means so much more.
A couple of side notes:
Ada Roe was born in Islington, England in 1858, when the Ottoman Empire still existed. At the time, Victoria ruled an empire the Sun never set on, the horse and buggy was main transportation and the Civil War in America was still 3 years away. She died in 1970 after seeing the world change in ways we can hardly comprehend.
Kennedy’s Moon Shot Speech is my favorite political speech of all time for one reason. Not for its prose, not for its topic, not for its patriotism, but because “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.”
How many politicians have ever gone out and said the simple reason we are going to do something is because it is hard? He sums up the will of the human endeavor in one sentence and it is amazing.