Let's Go Back
The Apollo 11 moon landing was followed by five other successful manned missions, the last of which was Apollo 17 in 1972. There were six other missions planned, but Apollo 13’s was scrubbed when the words “OK, Houston, we’ve had a problem here,” were nonchalantly spoken by astronaut John Swigert Jr. to ground control and subsequently echoed by mission commander James Lovell.
All told, a total of 12 men have walked on the moon – an exclusive club by any measure. These 12, however, represented the efforts of thousands across nearly every professional and technical discipline. Challenged by President Kennedy, these individuals united in a common effort to solve seemingly insurmountable problems to get people onto the moon and bring them back safely.
Thirty-seven years have passed since men last walked on the moon. Many will be astounded to learn that two of every three people on Earth today were not yet born when astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt last stepped off the moon’s surface in 1972. With those last steps, America scrubbed the remaining Apollo missions of the 1970s, shelved the program and effectively let itself forget how to repeat the triumphs that helped bring it greatness. NASA, via the Space Shuttle program and unmanned solar-system explorations, has moved forward through its successes and despite its tragedies.
When President Bush proposed in January 2004 that we send Americans back to the moon, I greeted the announcement with enthusiasm and support. With the Space Shuttle program scheduled to end next year, I believe it would be a mistake not to pursue the goal of another moon landing in the years to come. NASA already has plans in place to visit the moon again, though this time the moon is not the end in itself – Mars is.
One hopes we can find a way, but in these tough economic times it is questionable whether administrators and lawmakers can find the financial means and political will to continue the program. Many debate the practical benefits of such costly missions and whether we should ever try to go back. Let the skeptics and naysayers speak their piece, if they must. But when they pull out their laptops to research their positions on the Internet or use their cell phones to communicate them, they should be aware that electronic miniaturization and wireless communication are only two of the many practical, life-improving technologies brought about through the space program.