Monday, July 16, 2012

Walking on the Moon!

In a very real sense, it will not be one man going to the moon. 
It will be an entire nation, for all of us 
must work to put him there.  
~ President John F. Kennedy

July 20, 1969:
"The Eagle has landed."

Buzz Aldrin saluting the US flag on the moon. (
With those words, a seemingly impossible dream became reality: Man finally was going to touch – to walk upon – that silvery, celestial orb that hangs from our night time sky. ... Way cool.

What makes this journey so collective? Why is July 20 the anniversary of when "we" walked on the moon rather than simply when "a man" walked on the moon? 

It is not a stretch to imagine how impossible such a dream must seem to a collective consciousness. Be it our first look skyward out of the proverbial cave or star gazing from skyscraper balconies, our perennial star gazing has not decreased the wonder nor the beauty of the heavens.

Where does the moon stand amidst this panoply? The moon is simply and impossibly the first celestial orb that we have touched.

The moon
The moon waxes, wanes, and blooms. It turns colors like harvest gold, copper fire, or mythical blue. It makes cloud cover glow. It is constantly changing and a constant to look upon and wonder at as we  consider the constant shifting of our own lives.

From a human, cultural perspective, that first moon walk may have been conceived by the Cold War but ultimately, it defied political system and country of origin. Instead, it took the people of this planet on that journey. 

As the first moon walker so aptly put it:
This is one small step for a man; one giant leap for mankind.
~ American astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon

The flag on the moon
Not without debate was it decided to plant a US flag upon the moon. The larger question was how to "fly" the flag under windless conditions? A simple plan was devised.

The first decision was to fly a common 3'x5' nylon American flag, the most popular size flown then as well as now. (Its manufacturer, by the way, was purposefully lost to history. In order to accomplish this, NASA sent employees out to purchase a slew of 3'x5' flags from local stores including hardware stores, Sears and so on. Who actually made the flag that would fly on the moon? They didn't want it to matter.)
sketched plans of how to "wave" the flag from the moon (

In order to create the illusion of an American flag flying proudly in the wind, NASA engineers decided to fly the flag from a specially constructed flag pole. A simple, 3-part, aluminum flag pole was used that could be taken apart for the trip and reassembled once on the moon. The pole would attach to a specially constructed, horizontal type of "curtain rod" assembly at its top. The horizontal rod would allow the flag to be constantly at attention. (See above illustration.)

In order to create this discreetly, a fabric tunnel or "hem" (again, like the top of a curtain) would be sewn along the top edge of the flag. The horizontal pole would be inserted into this hem and the flag would have the appearance of flying. Simple, yes? And it was.

Did you know? 
The only time this flag actually "waved" was from the propulsion of the Apollo's take off.

The race to the moon
Getting to the moon was a national aspiration birthed by President John F. Kennedy. Kennedy made it a national goal, a national desire – an objective that embodied American know-how and industry with American spirit. 

In his speeches on the subject, Kennedy describes mankind as having great potential and the ability to do great things. He does not limit this description or belief to one nation. He also urges us to push ourselves to discover all that is great within us. 

If you are of a certain age, you grew up with these ideas, ideas that defined mankind as a noble creature, that defined the individual as capable of great good and with the responsibility to do good.

As President Kennedy says in this speech to Rice University in 1962:

We choose to do this not because it is easy, but because it is hard. Because that challenge is one we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win.  

In his State of the Union speech on May 25, 1961, Kennedy first put the challenge to Congress, noting right away that this would be a long term and an expensive challenge.

Why did Kennedy believe that getting to the moon was so important? 

Why did he choose to put before us such a long-term, such an expensive, and such a seemingly impossible goal? 
What did that give to us as a nation? 

What did it give to that generation who grew up with this goal not yet in hand but soon to be within reach?

Surely, the importance was far greater than the actual getting to the moon. In the midst of the Cold War, this race helped define us as a nation. It gave us pride and purpose, and fed that quality of optimism and spirit that often has described this country and this people.

Kennedy's mission also redefined the nature of human endeavor – as led by a free world.  

So I ask you: How does it feel when you watch this man – this American, this pioneer, this brave heart – walk on the moon and share those steps with you? 

This video (courtesy of CBS News) from July 20, 1969 shows the actual moon. It is narrated by Walter Cronkite, the voice of American news at that time. The run time is approximately 2:00.

Walter Cronkite goes with us as we watch the Apollo XI launch from Cape Canaveral and then as we watch it land on the moon and see Neil Armstrong take those first historic steps. (Courtesy CBS News)

The Apollo XI crew (from left): Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, Buzz Aldrin (
"We came in peace for all mankind."
Accompanying the flag that is on the moon is a plaque (written in English) that shows the planet Earth and gives the date of our landing. It is signed by four people: the astronauts who were on the voyage (Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin actually got to walk on the moon; Michael Collins, a third pilot who did not get to walk on the moon) and then-president of the United States, Richard M. Nixon.

In one of history's ironies, Kennedy first ran for president against Nixon but it was Nixon who would see Kennedy's dream come true and who would be the president whose signature is preserved on the lunar plaque.

The plaque that accompanies the flag on the moon is signed by President Nixon.

From President Kennedy's 1961 State of the Union:
To Congress and the Nation
"Our greatest asset ... is the American people." 
If we are to win the battle that is now going on around the world between freedom and tyranny ... it is time to take longer strides – time for a great new American enterprise – time for this nation to take a clearly leading role in space achievement, which in many ways may hold the key to our future on earth.

I believe we possess all the resources and talents necessary. But the facts of the matter are that we have never made the national decisions or marshaled the national resources required for such leadership. We have never specified long-range goals on an urgent time schedule, or managed our resources and our time so as to insure their fulfillment. ...

For while we cannot guarantee that we shall one day be first, we can guarantee that any failure to make this effort will make us last. ... But this is not merely a race. Space is open to us now; and our eagerness to share its meaning is not governed by the efforts of others. We go into space because whatever mankind must undertake, free men must fully share.

I therefore ask the Congress, above and beyond the increases I have earlier requested for space activities, to provide the funds which are needed to meet the following national goals:

First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. 

No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish. We propose to accelerate the development of the appropriate lunar space craft. We propose to develop alternate liquid and solid fuel boosters, much larger than any now being developed, until certain which is superior. We propose additional funds for other engine development and for unmanned explorations--explorations which are particularly important for one purpose which this nation will never overlook: the survival of the man who first makes this daring flight.

But in a very real sense, it will not be one man going to the moon--if we make this judgment affirmatively, it will be an entire nation. For all of us must work to put him there.

Secondly, an additional 23 million dollars, together with 7 million dollars already available, will accelerate development of the Rover nuclear rocket. This gives promise of some day providing a means for even more exciting and ambitious exploration of space, perhaps beyond the moon, perhaps to the very end of the solar system itself. Third, an additional 50 million dollars will make the most of our present leadership, by accelerating the use of space satellites for world-wide communications. Fourth, an additional 75 million dollars--of which 53 million dollars is for the Weather Bureau--will help give us at the earliest possible time a satellite system for world-wide weather observation.

Let it be clear ... I am asking the Congress and the country to accept a firm commitment to a new course of action, a course which will last for many years and carry very heavy costs: 531 million dollars in fiscal '62--an estimated seven to nine billion dollars additional over the next five years. If we are to go only half way, or reduce our sights in the face of difficulty, in my judgment it would be better not to go at all. ... It is a most important decision that we make as a nation. But all of you have lived through the last four years and have seen the significance of space and the adventures in space, and no one can predict with certainty what the ultimate meaning will be of mastery of space.

I believe we should go to the moon. But I think every citizen of this country as well as the Members of the Congress should consider the matter carefully in making their judgment, to which we have given attention over many weeks and months, because it is a heavy burden, and there is no sense in agreeing or desiring that the United States take an affirmative position in outer space, unless we are prepared to do the work and bear the burdens to make it successful. If we are not, we should decide today and this year.

This decision demands a major national commitment of scientific and technical manpower, material and facilities, and the possibility of their diversion from other important activities where they are already thinly spread. It means a degree of dedication, organization and discipline which have not always characterized our research and development efforts. It means we cannot afford undue work stoppages, inflated costs of material or talent, wasteful inter-agency rivalries, or a high turnover of key personnel. ...

In conclusion, let me emphasize one point: that we are determined, as a nation in 1961 that freedom shall survive and succeed – and whatever the peril and set-backs, we have some very large advantages.

The first is the simple fact that we are on the side of liberty--and since the beginning of history, and particularly since the end of the Second World War, liberty has been winning out all over the globe.

A second real asset is that we are not alone. We have friends and allies all over the world who share our devotion to freedom. ...

A third asset is our desire for peace. It is sincere, and I believe the world knows it. We are proving it in our patience at the test ban table, and we are proving it in the UN where our efforts have been directed to maintaining that organization's usefulness as a protector of the independence of small nations. In these and other instances, the response of our opponents has not been encouraging.

Yet it is important to know that our patience at the bargaining table is nearly inexhaustible, though our credulity is limited that our hopes for peace are unfailing, while our determination to protect our security is resolute. ...

Finally, our greatest asset in this struggle is the American people – their willingness to pay the price for these programs ... and, finally, to practice democracy at home, in all States, with all races.
Let it fly!


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