In its relatively short history, America is known for a lot of things. The Revolutionary War, Apple Pie, Honey Boo Boo, and many other cultural and historical contributions. But what event outshines them all? We believe the Apollo Program outshines them all on the scale of America’s greatest moments.
But why was July 20th, 1969 and the following landings so important? We discuss ten reasons as to why it’s still relevant, and still one of the most meaningful contributions America has made to the world.
#1 – We Did it to Beat the Commies
Rocky and Apollo Creed. The Jedi and Sith. Ohio State and Michigan. The Axis and Allies. Throughout movies, sports, and history, there have been many mortal enemies that have fought against one another. By 1961, the United States had been embarrassed multiple times by communist countries. First by the Soviet Union successfully launching Sputnik 1 in 1957, and more recently by Yuri Gargarin’s orbit of Earth in Vostok 1, as well as the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion.
America was reeling from its many losses. So what did President John F. Kennedy do? He delivered a speech to a joint session of Congress on May 25th, 1961. In the speech, he told those in Congress and the American people that we would embark on one of the largest projects in American history, beating our hated rivals, the Soviet Union, in a field they had recently had much more success in.
Imagine having a neighbor that had a party featuring a loud stereo system that was the envy of everyone on the block. To get back at him, you throw your own party, and get Aerosmith to play it. That is an apt comparison of exactly what JFK decided that America would do in response to the Soviet’s achievements, providing history with the greatest tale of one-upping the competition. Although JFK wasn’t around alive to see the results (Richard Nixon, his adversary in the 1960 US Presidential Election did), it cemented his legacy as one of the 20th centuries’ most remarkable presidencies.
So what happened to the Soviets after the Moon Landing? Very little, and that is exactly what NASA and the ghost of JFK wanted. The Soviets never attempted to land on the Moon, and their contributions to records in space began to steadily decline. If you ever want to see how sad the Soviet and Russian programs have become, just take a look at their Buran Space Shuttle. They did take some cool pictures of Venus, though.
#2 – The Average Age of a NASA Engineer Was 28 at the Moon Landing
The Moon Landing was something only dreamed about in sci-fi literature prior to the 1960s. Even when America embarked on the path to the Moon, there was a lot of hatred over the supposed boondoggle. Such hatred was probably rational in the early 60s. After all, about half of America had grown up without indoor plumbing, so how was it we were going to put someone on an alien surface 250,000 miles away?
The impossible was accomplished with the 1960′s equivalent of Sheldon Cooper. Even then, its not a fair comparison, as the average engineer was even younger than The Big Bang Theory’s wunderkind. This was in stark contrast to the NASA of today, which has an average age of 47. Some of America’s most incredible advancements have been accomplished by young men and women, such as the Manhattan Project, as the average age of their scientists was just 25 years old.
Pictured to the right is a man named John Wolfram. Other than having an awesome last name, he was one of four Navy SEALs who were part of assisting the Apollo 11 crew after splashdown. He was just 20 years old when he attached a 200-pound sea anchor to the capsule, ensuring the survival of Neil Amstrong and company after their triumphant return to Earth. His story and contribution was one of the many thousands involved in the Apollo program.
Trusting your life in the hands of a kid fresh out of college is an incredible act of faith, but that’s exactly what countless astronauts did leading up to, and through the moon landings. So the next time your Starbucks barista begins to tell you about her amazing career in gender-sensitive sustainable quinoa farming, remind her that the kids her age used to be more concerned with inventing nukes and getting people to the moon.
#3 – There’s an American flag on the Moon
Planting an American flag has become one of the countries’ greatest feats and accomplishments through very turbulent times. Marines planted a flag on Iwo Jima on February 23rd, 1945, despite huge firefights in the vicinity of Mount Suribachi. Likewise, after the tragic events of 9/11, another iconic picture was taken of firefighters raising the US flag over the rubble of the World Trade Center.
Yet despite those two events, there is one flag that is likely still there, just as it was over 40 years ago – the American flag on the moon. Although according to Buzz Aldrin, the flag was tipped over as the astronauts left the Moon in the Lunar Lander, its still quite an accomplishment, as scientists still have evidence that the flag is indeed there.
Originally, the plan was to plant a UN flag on the Moon, but thank God it was nixed. Can you imagine the most permanent symbol on the moon being an agency that excels at nothing?
Every lunar landing has seen the planting of the Stars & Bars somewhere on its barren surface. If aliens have ever visited the Moon, then there is no doubt as to who has been there.
#4 – No One Has Copied It
Technology has progressed at an incredible pace since the dawn of even the 18th century. Lifestyles and livelihoods change with each generation. Yet one thing has remained consistent for the past 43 years: No one has landed on the Moon except for American astronauts.
Let’s put that in perspective: In 44 years, aviation went from the Wright Flyer 1 to the F-86 Sabre Jet. In another 43 years, military aircraft like the F-117 Nighthawk stealth bomber had just begun to fly from secret locations to blow up unsuspecting bad guys like a ninja version of Rambo. Yet in a similar time span, no one has even come close to the accomplishments of NASA and the Apollo astronauts. Even the Chinese are still decades away from landing on the Moon, despite the fact they always find a way to make an inferior copy of something in a few weeks.
If someone ever lands on the Moon again, its likely they’re going to be American, too. Companies like SpaceX and the newly-announced Golden Spike are planning on returning where Neil, Buzz and the boys played golf a generation ago. When it happens, the likely 50-year record will be something for the ages. And its all thanks to the men (and probably a few women, too) that risked their lives to do something few thought possible.
#5 – They Invented It All To Get There
Invention is the mother of necessity, they say. In the case of going to the Moon, an incredible number of things had to be invented. When Kennedy announced that we were going to the Moon, the US hadn’t even sent a man into space (John Glenn did the next year aboard Friendship 7). Much less, the amount of technology it takes to put a man on the Moon is vastly higher than it is to simply get them to orbit in space. It’s like the difference between a Lady Gaga song, and Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. Sure, they’re both music, but guess which one was harder to compose?
For example, rockets are a critical component of getting anything into outer space. But not just any rocket will do. It required the aptly named Saturn V. Badass Supreme may have been an even more apt name, but we’ll settle for the Roman god of liberation. The Saturn V tipped the scales at 6.2 million pounds fully fueled. How big is that? Other than the nifty comparison chart below, lets put it a few other ways:
1 Saturn V rocket is the same weight as:
17,500 Ford Mustangs
1,460 F-16 Falcons, Fully Loaded
46 M-1 Abrams Battle Tanks
#6 – NASA Brought Everyone Back Alive
Exploration can come at a huge price. If you don’t believe us, just ask the Donner Party. In the pursuit of incredible achievements, there is always the possibility of tragedy. However, tragedy among the Apollo Program was almost non-existent. Of the 12 men that landed on the Moon, everyone came back. That is not to say there weren’t incredible risks surrounding the missions, as we all learned when Tom Hanks and company witnessed Ron Howard rupture an oxygen tank on Apollo 13. However, thanks to some incredible ingenuity and the will to survive, the crew made it back to Earth safely. Three people did die as a result of the program (Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee), but all were Earthside.
Comparatively, the Soviet program was a little more reckless with its projects. The true cost of lives is likely locked forever away inside destroyed records from the Soviet Union, but we do know that at least 4 cosmonauts died prior to the completion on the Apollo program. Additionally, if any of the Lost Cosmonaut theories were true, it would add significantly to the numbers of people the Soviet Union lost during their space program.
You also have the utter failures of NASA post-Apollo with two shuttle disasters. Its interesting to compare the results of safety standards in the 1960s with the Apollo and Gemini programs, and contrast them to the Shuttle Program. In 135 STS launches, 12 people died, or approximately 1 per 11 launches. Comparatively, zero died from 11 manned Apollo missions, 10 Gemini missions, and various other launches throughout the 60s and 70s. We do note, though, that many men gave their lives during Earth-based training, but its still a stark comparison between launching men into outer space among both programs.
#7 – One Small Leap for Man, One Giant Leap for ‘Merica-kind
Its estimated that 530 million people tuned in to watch the Moon landing. It was only in 2006 that any other even rendered audiences as captive as Neil Armstrong walking on the moon. Given the number of actual TV sets worldwide at the time, its likely a feat never to be repeated. Its been argued that for a moment in time, the whole world was unified in watching Neil utter his historic phrase.
But what has the impact been since the Moon landing? There are many arguments that discuss the impact of the Apollo Program. But the cultural influence can’t be denied, as its very rare that anyone can think of a more important achievement that was watched worldwide. If anything is to be argued, the Lunar Landings sparked a huge cultural shift into everything America. More and more nations began to become steeped in Americana thanks to the television, and the quintessential live spectacle of the landings.
Since then, the goal of beating the Soviets wasn’t just achieved, but it (along with Reagan’s Star Wars Death Ray) was likely a gentle push to destroy the Soviet Union. They couldn’t compete with American dollars in sending people to the Moon. From 1969 on, communism began its slow decline worldwide. Up to that point, it had taken over the hearts and minds of so many. But since 1969, only a handful of tinpot premiers have tried to captivate people with ‘ole Karl Marx. There are probably many reasons for that, but we’d like to argue that the Moon Landing was the watershed moment that told the commies that Democracy and Capitalism could do far more amazing things than bread lines and Bolshevik revolutions.
#8 – The Event Was So Awesome, It Had to Be Fake
Everyone loves a conspiracy theory, don’t they? According to some, the same government that blew up the Twin Towers in NYC, killed JFK (or did Castro do that?), and many other clandestine activities isn’t adept at launching a rocket to the Moon. Conspiracies are nothing new, but there have been many people involved in trying to provide proof that the landings were fake.
Although NASA and the astronauts that went to the moon are pretty pissed off at the people that believe they spent $25 billion USD on Hollywood movie sets, it does speak to an interesting aspect of the Moon Landings: Nothing that awesome has ever happened, nor happened since, so it must be fake.
It doesn’t take a genius, or Buzz Aldrin beating the tar out of Bart Sibrel to provide a laundry list of reasons that we went to the Moon, as well as why we never went back. The Apollo landing was a massive government undertaking, which at its peak soaked up almost 5% of the federal government’s annual budget. Most of the reason we never went back (or to Mars for that matter) is simply because there isn’t enough money to go back. Since 1972 – the last year we landed on the Moon – NASA’s budget has been cut by 66% in terms of total government outlays, and approximately 50% in constant 2001 dollars. Despite advances in technology, its still very expensive to go back to the Moon. However, that is changing rapidly, as SpaceX and Golden Spike believe they can go back to the Moon for just $1.5 billion USD – less than 1/10th of NASA’s Apollo budget. If and when someone goes back, maybe they can send some pictures back of the fake Hollywood set Neil, Buzz and friends made on the Moon.
#9 – Every Footprint on the Moon is American
When was the last time you bought a shoe made in America? It seems today that everything is made overseas, from shoes to Shake Weights, its either from China, or a country you can’t pronounce. There is one place, though, that has only American-made boots on the ground, and that is the object directly above us – the Moon. Other countries have landed probes on the Moon, but its been incredibly rare. In fact, the Soviets launched (and failed) 21 times before they finally put the Luna 9 on the Moon.
#10 – We Didn’t Kill Anyone To Get It Done
There are a lot of badass events in America’s history. The signing of the Declaration of Independence, freeing the slaves, defeating the Nazis and Imperial Japanese, bringing Osama Bin Laden to justice, and so many more acts of defiance, courage and bravery. Yet in almost every instance, badass has also meant bloody. Landing on the Moon was done without bloodshed, as far as we know.
Maybe as history goes forward, more can learn from what NASA accomplished in a 12 year span. It may or may not be governments that accomplish greater feats in space, but anyone that attempts to beat NASA should at least be in awe of what many young men and women endeavored to achieve – all without killing or subjugating someone else to get it done. Given the aforementioned Von Braun’s involvement in the project, its also a tale of redemption of a man that was able to turn the proverbial sword into a spaceship.
In the years following the Apollo missions, many children found a new love for space and space travel, and have taken up the banner of continuing the development of space travel and exploration. Visionary men like Elon Musk, John Carmack and Richard Branson have used (and in many cases, mentioned) the Moon landings as a stepping stone to what they’re currently doing to further space travel where NASA can no longer tread.
Its our hope at SpaceO that the Lunar landings continue to inspire young men and women to dream large and work hard until the day that the achievement becomes common place, and at that time, find new challenges to take on.