July 30, 1969
."The Eagle has landed!".Say what you will, these laconic four words by Neil Armstrong go down in my book as the historic first words of man on the moon.They were natural and spontaneous.They rank with "Don't give up the ship.
", "Mr. Watson, Come here. I want you.", and "Nuts!".Armstrong's statement an hour later "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind" - is studied and lofty.
However, it lacks the terse information the world was waiting for.Centuries of study and a decade of technological effort were culminated when the lunar module set down gently on the Moon's surface. The opening of a door and climbing down a ladder hardly constituted a last, great obstacle before man completed his conquest of space.The word "Eagle" is a world wide symbol for the United States. The word "landed" means safe arrival after a perilous voyage. These words have drama as well as significance.
It is good public relations, of course, to try and share the achievement with all mankind. But I am immensely proud that it was the "Eagle" and not the "Bear" that got there first. I may be a super-patriot, but my biggest thrill of the whole incredible adventure came with that first terse sentence.Those in the limelight have long wished that their formal pronouncements would stand alone for public scrutiny.
But the human mind instinctively seeks out brevity. History has a way of recalling words and events meaningful to society in a later time frame. The intentions, of historical figures are usually buried with their bones.There will be a concerted effort in our generation to perpetuate the "one small step" statement because we share with our space leaders the desire to make all nations a partner.
As a matter of fact, though, the moon walk was a triumph for American science and engineering. Unfortunately, it will not increase the common interest of all mankind. When the idealism wears off, the most likely remembrance will be "The Eagle has landed.".All Ohioans are pleased that Armstrong is a Buckeye; as is John Glenn, another famous astronaut.
Their courage and skill, their personality and modesty, make them fitting heroes.It is too bad, however, that our parochial zeal, and our simplistic wish to identify THE FIRST, clouds the contribution of equally deserving heroes.Buz Aldrin, who hails from Montclair, N.
J., shared all the dangers with Armstrong. Only his lesser flight rank kept him, properly, from being first down the ladder.We honor Glenn as our first astronaut, almost forgetting Alan B. Shepard.
It was the latter who was the first man - American or Russian - to climb on top of 2,000 tons of explosive and let somebody light the fuse. His suborbital ride aboard the Mercury rocket Freedom 7 on May 5, 1961, took the most courage of all. No one had ever done such a thing before, and the technology was sketchy. Several rockets had blown up on the launching pad.When we raise statues to Armstrong and Glenn, I hope we at least scratch somewhere on the pedestal the names of Aldrin and Shepard.As usual, the social action carpers have had sour words about the space achievement.
We should have spent the money on helping the poor. We should have exerted the same effort in cleaning up our polluted streams. We should have provided the same dedication to civil rights.
We should have been equally ingenious in solving the Vietnam war.These special pleaders speak for great and worthy causes. I support them and attempt, from time to time, to bring them to the attention of our readers.To denigrate the moon walk on the basis it is EITHER that OR social progress is to display a woeful lack of understanding about the causes of our domestic problems.
Poverty, discrimination, pollution, war - all result from the inertia of society. Our space program was largely a feat of technology. Only a few men had to be motivated to undertake the project - principally Dwight D. Eisenhower in setting up the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to build the hardware - and John F. Kennedy in setting the goal.
To most of the people in the space program, rocketry is a job. Their desire is a simple one, to make a living. Indeed, most of the 24 billion dollars spent so far on space technology went for wages.
The enormous payrolls did much for creating jobs, and either directly or indirectly alleviating the severity of our social problems.The sad fact is that many people are poor because they prefer it to work. Many people are intolerant because they have acquired justified prejudices.
Pollution exists from ignorance. Hate and greed bring on wars.Money can do very little in motivating people to do good. A society must want to change before it will change. Billions of dollars worth of new gadgets won't alter human nature.
A rededication to correcting social injustices certainly is in order. A moderate amount of money to educate the ambitious, sustain the unavoidably poor, create jobs, and manage the environment deserves high priority.Yet it is doubtful that 24 billion dollars and single-minded concentration by government will do much to speed that glorious day when every man will be equally fed, equally trained and equally regarded.The answer lies within the heart of each of us.
As we grow more kind and helpful to our neighbors we will move closer to universal brotherhood.This goal must depend upon the abstract of friendship, not a highly reliable fuel valve.We make progress slowly -- but surely. In the meantime, let's continue to push ahead on the scientific frontiers.
Great technical advances in the past have prepared seed-beds for social advances. There is every reason to expect that our space work will do likewise..Lindsey Williams is a Sun columnist who can be contacted at:.
org with several hundred of Lin's articles written over 40 years, and his book "Boldly Onward," about the original explorers of America.
By: Lindsey Williams