(July 11).

(A slightly different version of this is running in the Washington Examiner print magazine.)

Fifty years after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon, one senses that too few people appreciate that achievement with the right degree of wonder.

For almost anyone old enough at the time for their brain to record memories, though, that first moonwalk on July 20 (U.S. time) will always inspire jaw-dropping awe. As well it should. No moment in human history matches it as an example of collective and focused human genius, will, and courage.

Imagine you are five years old, as I was. In the mid-afternoon you had watched on TV as the Eagle landed, something you really couldn’t understand because you couldn’t even see the moon in the daylight. How could a TV camera show a moon that wasn’t there?

Your parents put you to bed at 8 (Central time), only to wake you 90 minutes later. There, on the sofa, holding a stuffed Snoopy who wore an astronaut’s suit complete with its helmet bubble, you watched the hazy, awkwardly camera-angled proceedings on a grainy TV. As your father repeatedly fiddled with the rabbit-ears antennas, you saw on the screen this man-like creature, dressed like your Snoopy, gingerly step off a ladder while mumbling hard-to-decipher words. How could that weird moonscape onto which he stepped have anything to do with the white disc in the sky that your parents took you outside to view once again, about a half hour later, after a second space-suited guy joined the first on the TV’s “moon”?

It was all quite confusing, but the confusion itself added to the mystique and magic. You gathered from your parents’ reactions just how world-shaking this was, and you would never, never forget it.

A five-year-old’s brain couldn’t process the technological achievement involved, but we can and should. Today’s average smart phone can perform instructions 120 million times faster than the whole computer bank used by NASA back then. NASA engineers still used slide rules for some calculations, but needed to figure how to re-dock two spacecraft in flight while one orbited the moon at four times the speed of sound. The space ship they built was required to endure temperatures half as hot as the sun itself as it re-entered Earth’s atmosphere. And the men inside had to survive!

But NASA did it. Americans did it. We, we with our fragile human bodies, we of humankind, we did it. Even 50 years later, that feat should take our collective breath away. And it should make us all very, intensely, proud.


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