Apollo 11: Could This Be Real?

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of men landing on the moon. If you know me, you won’t be surprised, but I think that’s a pretty big deal. This summer I had two opportunities to watch the CNN film Apollo 11, one of them in IMAX, and it was a breathtaking experience.

Imagine: you are on a beach surrounded by nearly one million people, many with cameras or binoculars. Everyone’s gaze is drawn to a magnificent black and white rocket displayed proudly on the launch pad across the water. Imagine being there in that moment when the smoke and flame begin to pour out of the bottom of the rocket as it ever so slowly lifts itself skyward, the beginning of a dangerous and uncertain journey. Imagine the deep rumbling sound now reaching you, the kind you can feel in your heart and in your bones. Imagine realizing, together with everyone around you, that you are witnessing a historic moment, the likes of which has never been seen before, and perhaps never will be seen again: humanity’s first expedition to an extraterrestrial body.

My hope is that another such event will take place in my lifetime and that I can see it in person. Still, this should not be a tall order, especially not the first piece; a journey to Mars would qualify as nearly or equally historic. And though NASA has had the capabilities to develop such a mission for years now, I would argue, what progress has been made appears to have stagnated. I read an XKCD comic along these lines, where one person shuts down a moon landing denier by saying, “If NASA were willing to fake great accomplishments, they’d have a second one by now.” Now, I am not usually in the business of insulting NASA, but I have to admit there is some validity to such arguments; NASA does seem to have failed in this regard since the Apollo program.

Do not take this to mean I have lost faith in NASA’s ability to do great things. Quite the contrary. Have I lost faith in NASA’s ability to do great things quickly when not engaged in a Space Race? Maybe. But I believe the organization’s mission is still worth pursuing and that the organization as a whole has a great deal of potential. NASA’s mission is one of expanding scientific knowledge and “peaceful exploration and discovery.” NASA has accomplished an incredible amount – Skylab, Space Shuttle, ISS – given the four to eight year cycle of administrations each demanding a different goal.

There are a number of NASA projects in the works which will be incredible accomplishments towards the fulfillment of that mission— once they come to fruition. The James Webb Space Telescope will provide us with incredible images and knowledge, even better than those of the Hubble Space Telescope. NASA’s Space Launch System, while not as pretty as the majestic Saturn V which propelled the Apollo 11 astronauts to the moon, will be much more powerful. Seeing such a rocket shoot off into space could be even more spectacular than the Saturn V, especially if that launch was sending the first humans to Mars.

-Ilyana Smith ’20

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