Commentary: On July 20, the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 landing on the moon and Neil Armstrong’s and Buzz Aldrin’s historic moonwalk, I sat down to watch the film “Apollo 11” with my family. This wonderful film is not portrayed by actors nor is it a documentary, rather it is an aggregation of actual high-quality film footage of the Apollo 11 mission from pre-launch to post-earth- landing. There is no narrator, only the voices of the people in the various film clips are heard. The sheer scope of the Apollo 11 spacecraft (363 feet or nearly 34 stories high), the enormity of the Vehicle Assembly Building (129,428,000 cubic feet) in which the various stages of the spacecraft were assembled, the teamwork of the thousands of people who worked on this mission, and the bravery of astronauts Michael Collins, Buzz Aldrin, and Neil Armstrong who rode their craft more than 238,000 miles to the moon and back, was truly inspiring.
I couldn’t help but think to myself how great our nation was to be able to go from President John Kennedy’s declaration in 1961 that the U.S. would land a man on the moon before the end of the 1960s, to the actual landing nine years later on July 20, 1969. The NASA brass was pushed into a corner without a clear strategy on how to exactly get to the moon, and without existing equipment, yet in nine years the genius, technology, creativity, and hard work of the nation’s best technical minds made the moon landing a reality. Many of these technical minds that helped launch Apollo 11 were under 30 years old at the time.
In spite of the Vietnam War, civil unrest, and great cultural changes in the 1960s, the Apollo Program’s moon landing was one of the finest moments not only in American history, but in mankind’s. After viewing the movie, I thought to myself that such an effort is almost unimaginable today. Would the political and social divisions that we currently have in this country allow us to reach the greatness of the Apollo Program, even with the exponential increase in technology that has occurred in 50 years?
I also thought about what inspires kids and youth today. It will be their hard work, brains, and creativity that will keep our nation competitive in the future, so we need to somehow figure out how to match them up with momentous projects. Yes, the U.S. is currently experiencing a re-infatuation with space, not only at a federal government level, but in the private sector. Billionaires Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Richard Branson all own companies focused on taking humans into space, and all three seem to be determined and close to realizing this goal. At the height of the Apollo space program, it was estimated that more than 400,000 engineers, scientists, technicians, factory workers, and laborers were working in this program. Even if the current space efforts do not require such a high figure of personnel, thousands will still be needed. Can the current space efforts inspire our kids to be the future engineers, scientists, managers, and astronauts that will again take humans to the moon and even to Mars?
Are there any other major projects that the U.S. could launch to pool the nation’s talent together and to achieve something truly epic? What about a war to eradicate cancer by establishing an organized army of doctors, scientists, students, and pharmaceutical companies that sets wild goals and then works hard to achieve them? If such a program was strongly supported by the federal government and was well-funded, could many more youth be inspired to go into the science and medical fields?
Perhaps an Apollo-like monumental effort to address climate change would be inspirational. This is a widespread topic that the youth of our nation are seeing in all types of media. Youth tend to be more idealistic and bold in their outlook, and climate change could be a popular issue to harness the power of talented youth to come up with realistic and permanent solutions to this pressing issue. Furthermore, we really need a different way of perceiving and addressing the problem that fresh minds would bring to the table.
What about a national effort to put the nation on a renewable energy platform in sectors such as automobiles, production plants, and transportation modes? This would take leadership and cooperation in both the executive and legislative branches. A renewable energy program would also go hand-in-hand with the issue of global climate change. Could a vision be crafted in which the sun, wind, and geothermal technologies account for the overwhelming majority of our country’s energy needs? The U.S. could become the undisputed leader in this field if it sets its mind to do so. Renewable energy is another topic that our youth are constantly exposed to, and could be a source of inspiration for kids who want to make a positive change in the world.
Thinking big has always been part of the American dream. This type of thinking can be married to larger issues in which the power of inspired, talented youth can be harnessed to address and solve them. The Apollo program and the moon landing could not have occurred had this type of process not taken place. Our country can inspire and achieve great, monumental things. It is simply up to us to decide what we want to do.
Jerry Pacheco is Executive Director of the International Business Accelerator, a non-profit trade counseling program of the New Mexico Small Business Development Centers Network, and the President/CEO of the Border Industrial Association. He can be reached at 575-589-2200 or firstname.lastname@example.org