More Than Just Building Rockets
Forty years ago Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong stepped off the ladder of the Eagle Lunar Module onto the surface of the Moon and, with one fifth of the world's population watching, forever engraved into our cultural memory the now-famous words -- "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind."
It had been only eight years since President John F. Kennedy, spurred by Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin's flight in space, stood before a Joint Session of Congress and established America's bold mission "of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth." When President Kennedy spoke those words, he no more could have envisioned the world of innovation that would come about as a result of those efforts than the Mayflower pilgrims could have envisioned the nation that would one day arise out of theirs.
Our success at putting a man on the Moon before the end of the sixties was much more than proof of our ability to build rockets. It demonstrated our ability to come together with one purpose and accomplish a complex enterprise of unimaginable scope against odds that must have seemed at times to have been insuperable.
It has been said that we stand on the shoulders of giants, and so we do. That has given us a unique perspective and an invaluable head start on a journey that is still only underway. There are lessons yet to be learned, journeys yet to be made and new generations of explorers yet to be born.
The Cold War that gave rise to the space race is long over. But our leadership in space is as critical today as it was when the Eagle set down at Tranquility Base. It's critical to our national security, our technological and industrial base, and our global competitiveness.
We honor the legacy of Apollo best by continuing to build on its groundwork a sustainable space transportation capability that will be a long-term asset for our nation and the foundation of a civilian space program second to none.
Robert M. Lightfoot
Marshall Space Flight Center