Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Moon Forty Years Later

On July 21, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took mankind’s first steps on the moon. I remember this very clearly because I was a young boy on vacation in Utah that July. I was at my Aunt Avice and Uncle Theron’s home. Late at night, my cousins and I were glued to the television.

But this evening was the culmination of nearly a decade of a national initiative to put a man on the moon — before the Russians. It was President John F. Kennedy who committed to putting a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s.

With each launch over the course of the decade, the Gemini and Apollo programs continued to make ever more exciting events as we moved closer to our moon goal.

As we learned in the “Toy Story” movies, it was Buzz Lightyear’s space theme that had Woody become the second toy. So was it with America that the nation was behind the race to the moon.

But back to my Utah vacation. My Aunt Avice took us outside and had us look up at the night sky. I remember my Aunt Avice telling all of the children: “Look up at the moon. There are people walking on it. You’ll remember this for the rest of your lives.”

Indeed, that was a night that I have remembered for these 40 years. I don’t remember what else I did that summer, but I do remember looking at the moon knowing people were up there walking on it.

In the 40 years since that summer night, the world’s space exploration has certainly taken a very different direction than I had anticipated as I gazed at the moon. I had expected that the moon would be just the first step as we looked further beyond to Mars and other planets in our solar system before venturing far beyond.

As we all know, our space program has consisted primarily of numerous unmanned missions to Mars and the space shuttle which has been responsible for support of the Hubble telescope and the international space station.

Our mission to the moon had huge funding available for it: 4.4 percent of the federal budget versus 0.5 percent now. These programs are expensive.

No one argues that. I, for one, believe they’re worth every penny, especially when one considers the long-term scientific and medical advances that come about from “pushing the envelope” into space. I have often wished that there was a box on my tax return that would allow me to contribute some amount of money toward the space program. I would happily do so.

NASA’s next venture is the Constellation project which has as its mandate supporting the International Space Station, trips to the moon and after the year 2030, hopefully a trip to Mars.

As I look at the moon this July, I will think of that summer in Utah and continue to be amazed what has been done, what can be done and look forward to seeing the wonder in my children’s eyes as they look skyward.

Mark Mathias, a 30-plus year veteran of information technology and a resident of Westport, Connecticut, was named by Computerworld magazine to their list of “Premier 100 IT Leaders.” This column was originally published in the Westport News on Tuesday 30 June 2009.
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