Forty years ago Monday night, American astronaut Neil Armstrong took a giant leap for all humankind. At 10:56 p.m. on July 20, 1969, he stepped out of a fragile spacecraft and became the first human being to set foot on the moon.
It seemed at the time - and in many ways does still - an incredible accomplishment. Fewer than 10 years after President John F. Kennedy pledged that Americans would go to the moon, one of our countrymen was there.
Many of us who lived through the early days of the American space program remember the era as a time of adventure. Human beings were slipping the surly bonds of Earth and rocketing into space. It seemed that we were on the verge of a new age of discovery, one that would eclipse previous voyages in importance. And for a time, it seemed to some that we Americans could do anything to which we set our minds and hearts.
Alas, it appears that the moon will remain the outer limit of discovery for many years. We have learned that reaching the moon was comparatively simple in contrast with tasks such as sending human beings to other planets.
And we have found that the space program was not particularly a difficult challenge in comparison to the many others we face. It was much easier to put a man on the moon than to find a cure for cancer, to eliminate poverty or to achieve peace in our time, we have discovered.
Still, with the passing of the 40th anniversary of the initial landing on the moon, it is worthwhile to celebrate the event.
During the 1960s, the space program brought Americans together with a sense of adventure, discovery and dedication. It showed us that we could tackle and overcome enormous challenges. It showed the rest of the world that Americans were uniquely able to accomplish great things. Perhaps most important, it reminded us that our best days, as a people, can lie ahead of us if we are willing to focus on doing what it takes to achieve a bright future.
Armstrong's walk, then, is worth celebrating not just as a significant event in our history, but also as a reminder about the future. There can be other giant leaps for humankind - and we believe most of them will be taken by Americans.