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Never lose our place in space

Now, a half-century after America’s victory in the race to the moon, many people in this country might be lamenting that much greater space achievements have not been forthcoming over the five decades since that great accomplishment.

Sure, there were additional moon landings, the subsequent successes of the space shuttle program and other unmanned missions for scientific and other purposes, coupled with the United States’ participation in the international space station.

However, many people alive on July 20, 1969, the date man first stepped foot on the moon, probably envisioned that by the time the 50th anniversary of that great event arrived, there would be at least a permanently manned space station occupying that neighboring body.

Unfortunately, neither that facility nor the immense possibilities that might have emanated from it, have come to pass, and that should be judged as a failure. Still, much has been learned about Earth and what’s beyond because of the realization of President John F. Kennedy’s goal that America send a man to the moon before the end of the decade of the 1960s.

Having succeeded in that accomplishment cast forever into the background the fact that the Soviet Union, not the United States, was the first to launch a satellite, and later a rocket with a man aboard.

Fortunately, it didn’t take long for the United States to surpass the Soviets on the space front, setting the stage for that July day in 1969 that will forever be a cherished chapter in this nation’s history.

And, Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins, the crew of Apollo 11, always will be revered for the bravery, skills, composure and expertise that they demonstrated on that long journey to and from the moon’s sandy, rocky, windswept and crater-abundant surface.

By the time September 1969 arrived, Life magazine had prepared and printed a special picture-laden issue titled “To the Moon and Back” that not only recorded the happenings surrounding Apollo 11 and its astronauts, but also contained a section titled “A Calendar of Space Flight: Man’s Countdown for the Moon.”

That section began with Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin being launched in space aboard Vostok 1 on April 12, 1961, then detailed other key space accomplishments by the two countries leading up to the July 16, 1969, launching of Apollo 11.

Besides the many pictures dealing with the moon mission itself, the magazine contained numerous other pictures such as a scene from Disneyland, “where hundreds gave up ‘moon rides’ to watch the real thing”; scenes from Manhattan, where “people cheered and worried in front of huge TV screens”; a picture of Las Vegas crowds pausing over baccarat to watch Armstrong’s moon walk; Pope Paul VI getting a telescopic close-up of the moon; and, in Saigon, South Vietnam, GIs reading about the lunar adventure in the newspaper The Saigon Post.

Nevertheless, today, it’s incredible that some people still harbor the foolish skepticism that what continues to be dubbed “the giant leap for mankind” was actually a hoax that the U.S. Government had staged to win the space race.

Abandon such flawed thinking.

Looking ahead, America’s space-travel future remains uncertain as it continues to lack the ambitious, unrelenting political mindset Kennedy projected when he stated his and the nation’s goal eight years prior to Apollo 11.

But America never must abandon the desire to look beyond this planet to consider what might be within the realm of possibility.

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