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To the Moon and Back

Posted by on July 7, 2011 at 8:46 pm

On May 25, 1961 President John F. Kennedy spoke before a joint session of Congress and laid down a challenge to the country and the U.S. space program: “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.”

With these words, the United States marshaled an unprecedented level of innovative and scientific forces to accomplish this seemingly unreachable goal. In doing so, new generations of Americans became interested in science and space. Educators, students, and the American society at large embraced this ambitious goal with a level of enthusiasm not seen before or since this period in history.

And eight years later on July 21, 1969 astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first person to step foot on the Moon.

Undoubtedly, this country’s excitement and focus on science and space in the 1960s helped plant many of the seeds that led to America’s leadership in technology over the next several decades, including the microcomputer, software, and the Internet.

With this week’s 135th and last launch of the U.S. Space Shuttle, I find myself longing for a new, seemingly unreachable goal that can spark this country’s ingenuity and innovative spirit once more. Else, I fear that we will continue to slip further behind other countries like China and India, which are turning out four times as many math, engineering, and science graduates as the United States.

Let’s hope our country’s next Moon shot comes sooner rather than later.