Thursday marks the 40th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11, the spacecraft that delivered the first two human beings to the moon.
On July 20, Neil Armstrong put the first footprints in lunar soil, followed a few minutes later by Buzz Aldrin, while Michael Collins orbited above them. Over the next three years, 10 more men, all Americans, walked on the moon.
But when Armstrong made his famous quote as he stepped off the lunar lander: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," he was less than prophetic.
After the Apollo 17 landing in December 1972, we quit. No one has ever gone back to the moon. In large part, that was a lack of vision by Congress, which somehow felt that the entire purpose of Apollo had been to beat the Russians to the moon. In fact, without the impetus created by the "space race" with the old Soviet Union, we might not have a manned presence in space even today. Right now, the Chinese may beat us to the moon in the 21st century.
After the Apollo program ended we turned our attention to just getting men (and women) into low earth orbit. In the last 37 years no one has sent an astronaut further than 250 miles from the surface of our planet. If Armstrong's step was a leap forward for mankind, we've taken a couple of steps back since then.
In fact, when the shuttle's missions end early next year, the United States will no longer be a spacefaring nation. We'll have to hitch rides with the Russians just to get Americans to the International Space Station.
A new program, Orion (essentially the old Apollo "on steroids") is being developed, part of the Constellation Project, to return us to the moon, some time in the next decade. More than two generations will have passed since anyone saw someone walk on the moon. In fact, today, about one in seven people in the United States don't believe it happened in the first place. It's a sad commentary on the decline of the manned space program.
We need to renew our emphasis to manned deep space flight. The exploration of our solar system, and eventually the ability of humans to move off the planet and expand our reach and access to resources, is vital to the future of our own planet.
On this 40th anniversary of Apollo 11, let us renew our commitment to the future, and urge Congress to make adequate funding available so the hiatus in our nation's spacefaring capabilities is as short as possible.
-- Kelly Everitt