first mission by people on Earth through space to
planetary body are unlikely ever to be lost to
to memory, or to storytelling.
One Giant Leap: The Impossible Mission That Flew Us to the Moon
Time is Always Right to Do What is Right.
Martin L. King Jr.
hundred and ten thousand people from 20,000 companies, surprisingly
as ethnically diverse as possible in the 1960s, joined the challenge
put forth by John F. Kennedy to send humans to the Moon. “It
was an enormous undertaking,” writes Charles Fishman, author of
One Giant Leap: The Impossible Mission That Flew Us to the
Apollo missions required ten times the effort it took to build the
Panama Canal, writes Fishman. Over the span of 11 missions to the
Moon, the Apollo program, the biggest non-military effort, had more
people working on it than fought in Vietnam. Kennedy commits the US
to land on the Moon when, as Fishman writes, the nation couldn’t
do it. “We didn’t have the tools, the equipment—we
didn’t have the rockets or launchpads, the spacesuits or the
computers or the zero-gravity food—to go to the Moon.” We
didn’t even know what was needed to accomplish the task, he
adds. Nonetheless, many Americans and people from all over the world
got it done!
on Earth knew how to fly to the Moon? Between May 1961 and July 1969,
hundreds of thousands committed themselves to the mission, determined
to take up Kennedy’s challenge. We could argue over the reasons
Kennedy wanted the race to the Moon to begin, given the Cold War era
and the reports coming out of the Soviet Union: the Soviets were
already working to send a human into space, at least. Nonetheless,
humanity’s ambition to walk on the Moon still stands as one of
the greatest achievements of humankind. And, fifty-years ago, the
lunar module, the Eagle, landed on the Moon, carrying astronauts Neil
Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, with astronaut Michael Collins remaining
in the Command module, Columbia.
did the impossible, and the world witnessed it on July 20, 1969. So
many around the world joined with those hundreds of thousands to sit
in front of black and white television sets to watch and listen as
the Eagle lands and, soon after, Armstrong notifies Mission Control
that he’s ready to step off the lunar module ladder on the
surface of the Moon. And we see the grain image, it’s one of
us, stepping done, one foot and then the other.
one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind...’”
fine like sane but firm enough to hold Armstrong’s weight. Only
later, back in the lunar module, Armstrong and Aldrin notice the
smell. “Like wet aches,” says Armstrong. Or “the
smell in the air after a firecracker has gone off,” says
for now, a human being is walking on the Moon’s surface.
F. Kennedy isn’t alive to see this. Neither is King. If King
had been alive, I think he would have acknowledged the achievement,
even as he works tirelessly for government funds to lift the poor out
of poverty. I’m sure he would have been one of the millions to
witness history in the making while insisting that the US government
transform its history of warfare and war profiteering into one that
accomplishes something like July 20, 1969, when people came together,
proud to be alive and human.
admitted to being the “‘biggest Trekkie on the planet.’”
This is what he tells Lt. Nyota Uhura, Chief Communications Commander
aboard the USS Enterprise NCC 1701, serving under Capt. James T.
Kirk. I remember during those years between 1966 to 1969 thinking
about the universe. That’s what the original Star
Trek television series met to
me—it brought the universe to the Southside of Chicago, to my
home, and Lt. Uhura, I imagined, was traveling though space. We’re
with Lt. Uhura and we belong. And why not?
she doesn’t know it. The actress playing the role of Lt. Uhura,
Nichelle Nichols, doesn’t know she is doing something special,
something to lift spirits, open eyes. Some of us relinquished
complacency, even if too young to know it. We embraced the future.
at this convention, standing among fans, but feeling weary, she’s
considering her last days on the series. Nichols has already notified
Star Trek’s creator,
Gene Roddenberry: She leaving. Tired. Who’s watching
now some fan wants to meet her. He says he’s her “‘biggest
fan.’” And she turns, and it’s Dr. Martin L. King.
“‘I am the biggest Trekkie on the planet.’”
Everything, he tells her, comes to a halt in the King household when
Star Trek comes on.
“‘And I’m Lt. Uhura’s most ardent fan.’”
imagine how “‘shaken’” I was when I heard of
you’re plans to leave Star Trek. You
have to know you can’t just “‘abdicate’”
your position “‘on the groundbreaking series.’”
Lt. Uhura must
remain aboard the USS Enterprise. Even King doesn’t know but
others agree. Newspapers, writes Fishman, encouraged letters to the
network to keep Star Trek on
the air. And scientists, museum curators, psychiatrists, doctors and
university professors responded, sending the network some 6,000
are changing the minds of people across the world, because for the
first time, through you, we see ourselves and what can be,”
King told Nichol. And when Nichol’s time aboard the starship
ended (NBC canceled the series), she went on to recruit women
astronauts for NASA. Sally Ride, the first woman astronaut, and Mae
Jamison, the first black woman in space, both influenced by Nichol,
were products of her advocacy. Whoopi Goldberg credits Nichol’s
role as Lt. Uhura for her interest in space exploration and her
subsequent pursuit of the role of Guinan on Star Trek: The
of us were prepared for the future thanks to the original Star
Trek series. When it was
canceled in June 1969, we linked out aspirations to the mission of
Apollo 11 that launched on July 16, 1969.
now today, instead of witnessing one more monumental achievement of
humanity, this nation, the United States of America, is forcing the
world to watch as it detains children from South America, housing
them as if so many cockroaches, leaving them to content with
unsanitary conditions and sheer filth—while the world questions
this nation’s sense of decency and common sense.
the leadership in Washington DC, all is normal, however the forward
movement of the US has come to a halt. Leadership is influencing its
citizenry to be cruel, indifferent. Unlike the children such as
myself some 50 years ago that summer, the children today are watching
television and witnessing the ill-treatment and cruelty directed at
other children by the adults in charge.
a virtue now to be cruel and indifferent toward other human beings.
Cruelty for profits.
not about looking back for the sake of looking back but rather
looking forward to the future in order to tackle the pressing issues
facing this nation, in fact, the whole of humanity—for openers,
global heating that threats the extinction of life, including that of
did something back in the 1960s without the equipment and technology.
Without even knowing what we would need to put a human on the Moon.
It wasn’t about left or right, liberal or conservative. No one
about asking Gene Kranz or Katherine Johnson or John Glenn or Jim
Lovell or Neil Armstrong what political affiliation did they support.
For it was clear these were people who lived by principles—something
we lack today. We know how to change course and do the right thing;
but, instead, we’re contrary, deliberately.
bad we live among fellow Americans who relish the good ole
days when the practice of
genocide against Indigenous, enslavement against blacks, and
extermination against Jews allowed them to imagine themselves
inheritors of the Roman Empire.
never involves caging children!
young person today wants to follow in the footsteps of an-all
knowing, smug little Steven Miller, the architect of policies
regarding immigrant children? Institutionalizing cruelty toward
children instead of institutionalizing justice, compassion, love.
so America is caging children in inhumane conditions and considering
this event a crowning achievement!
come a long way down in the last 50 years.