The world held a collective breath. The first human being to touch upon another world carefully stepped down from the lunar module, Eagle. “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for all mankind.” Said Neil Armstrong, American, astronaut, courageous hero, Midwesterner, representative of planet Earth, … and fallible human being.
Wait, why that last one? It is a historical fact that the first words spoken upon the moon landing were misquoted. Whether it was due to garble, an enormous planet sized audience, static, or simple nervousness, the current recordings had it thus: “…one small step for man.” Rather than the “…one small step for a man” (one tiny letter a), that had been planned. Perhaps the greatest watched and memorized quote of all time; and it was imperfect, ...which is highly appropriate. Because a sense of humility, not arrogance, is what gave humanity the right stuff to reach for the stars. Armstrong himself was modest, fully appreciating Collins and Aldrin, his crew mates, as well as the colossal team effort of so many others.
Although the rockets and goals of the Apollo missions were fueled by the cold war, the contest was peaceful. It took thousands of people, many years of courage, loss and sacrifice, dedication and cooperation from many nations, and sheer determination to go to the moon. It represented the boldest, the brightest and the best of what humankind could reach for as a species. The computers who got men there were primitive by today's standards. A twitter tweet now is more sophisticated in many ways. The rockets that roared up were not much more than hugely explosive Roman candles. Yet, they got there and said those words.
The words and what they meant was fully conveyed, and all over one tiny planet earth, a sense of unity, pride and no doubt, joyful tears were in abundance. That is because people knew that Armstrong was just a man, and that a mere man could walk, upon another planetary body had been impossible up until that momentous day. People knew the spirit, and the intent that tiny missing article “a” was there. They, had after all, been watching and hearing in hundreds of different languages, and in millions of different settings, all on one united planet.
The words, even flubbed, were powerful and true. They did not drift into nationalism, too much verbiage, or competition. They were simple, honest and straight to the point. Humans are of earth, are one people, and are here.
Cynics might wonder how they matter today. Other than the recent loss of Neil Armstrong as an earth citizen, in what way are the words relevant? Others might comment in dire reminders: “Sure, once we could do great things, but look at the mess the world is in right now. We have lost it, people. We are all broke. We trashed the planet. We are losers.”
But another reading, and this is what most people know, tells humanity that “One small step for a man and a giant leap for all humankind," matters, even now. Perhaps even more now. It is as significant today as it was all those years ago. Because these are the times that try human souls, and people can have their finest hours when in danger.
It tells people that when working with focus people can succeed. When inspired by peaceful goals and technological wonders people can reach the sky. When the going gets tough (it was the Cold War, after all), there is still hope that people can do what needs to be done to show what conviction, courage and consciousness can do. When united in effort people can achieve the impossible
What do people need to achieve now, in the twenty first century? They need all these things and more.
Collapsing economies, devastated eco-systems, war torn enemies, and toppling governments could take some wisdom from the 1960’s.
People forget what was going on then, since history is so glossed over. They forget there was unprecedented social turmoil in that decade. Civil rights came of age. Women and minorities struggled for equality. Something called the generation gap bitterly divided young and old, rich and poor. There was this thing called the Vietnam War.
And then, there was also this call to feet from a young man named John Fitzgerald Kennedy. He asked people to gather strength, to look through the psychedelic smog screen, to think with the brightest minds and achieve with courageous spirit. He asked everyone to keep strong hearts. He asked people to go to the moon, to see his vision through, although he, and many other martyrs who sacrificed so much, may not be there. And man went to the moon.