“I believe this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important to the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”
Those were the words of a visionary who would not live to know whether or not his vision would be fulfilled.
For those of us who follow NASA, Kennedy’s vision and his challenge were everything.
As a boy, I watched, each time, as NASA sent a man into space. I watched too, as they returned. I remember when the Apollo 3 died in a training fire on a launch pad and thinking that what we all wanted, Kennedy’s vision, was lost.
We were wrong.
I remember watching and listening, on a Christmas Eve as, in orbit around the moon, Genesis was read by our astronauts on Apollo 8.
It was a story I had heard in church and Sunday school for as long as I could remember but, it had never meant so much.
And then, when I was not quite nine years old, it happened.
On TV we watched as Apollo 11 took flight. Even on TV you could tell it was different. It was louder. It was a little slower than the others as it lifted off. Maybe others didn’t notice but, I did. I did because I had memorized every flight. Every rocket. Every launch and every splash down.
I knew exactly what a launch would look like and sound like but, this one, Apollo 11, was different and, so was I.
I knew exactly where they were going and I knew that if they came back, nothing would ever be the same again.
On board were Michael Collins who would not walk where no man had ever walked but, without him, the others wouldn’t make it back. That made Michael Collins as important as anyone who ever rode a rocket.
Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin was there and he would…He WOULD walk where they were going.
And, Neil Armstrong.
He would be the first. If they made it, he would be first.