"Earthrise," taken July 20, 1969, from the Apollo 11 Command Module
Forty years ago today, Apollo 11 left Earth and began its journey to the moon. As a kid, I remember lying on the tile floor of our living room, sick as a dog from Montezuma's revenge after our yearly summer trip to my mother's mother's home in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. The floor was cool, and my mom had placed a box fan on the floor to blow air on me. I had a fever and was throwing up everything I ate, but there was no way I was gonna miss that moon shot.
The biggest thing I took away from the Apollo moon landings, especially that first one, was the idea that we could do incredible things if we put our minds to it. The dreams of my generation involved the dreams of the entire planet, rapt with attention, watching that rocket take off and then, awestruck, watching Neil and Buzz walk on the moon. The entire planet! How many times has the entire planet watched the same thing and been so affected, so united? Sure, the Olympics often captivate the world--but those athletes, while they're doing things no regular person could do, aren't braving space and landing on the moon. And countries remain insular during the Olympics, with each nation's people rooting only for their own men and women.
Apollo and the moon landing united all people as one nation--we were all earthlings, not Americans or Russians or Germans or Australians.
Noble people and noble causes, inspiring us all. Do we have anything like that now? When the world comes together, what do they watch? What brings them together? American Idol? Some YouTube video? A sporting event? Perhaps the closest thing is the first few days after 9/11, but we had to experience such tragedy to know that kind of global closeness.
I feel sorry for those who didn't get to experience the moon landing, as well as the other moon missions, first-hand. I think kids today are incapable of imagining a world united for one purpose. They're incapable of imagining that we, puny humans that we are, can accomplish something so huge and so important and so difficult. Kids today are used to daily but somewhat meaningless and empty accomplishments -- cellphones that can take pictures and videos, or iPhones that can wipe your ass for you, or computers so fast you don't even have to wait more than a second for anything to open. Technological progress has become commonplace to them; they're impressed by the latest video game only for as long as it takes them to find another gadget to be impressed by.
The moon landings, on the other hand, impressed a generation of us in a way that is truly lasting. I will always feel that surge of joy and pride and accomplishment, as well as the resulting desire to know more: more about us, more about our universe, more about what we can do. When I see anything related to space, that feeling comes back to me just as strongly as it did back then, as I lay there on the floor, feeling sweaty and feverish but more excited and awe-struck than I had ever been or would ever be in my life. My life, all our lives, were changed forever.