August 31, 2012
"In 1969, a group of astronauts changed the world. They ride the biggest rocket ever built to the moon. It's the culmination of more than 10 years of space pioneering and the foundation for more than four decades of exploring worlds beyond our own. This is the story of our greatest adventure."
The preceding is the introduction from Gary Sinise to the Discovery miniseries "When We Left Earth: The NASA Missions." It was the best statement I could think of to sum up the affect Neil Armstrong and his comrades had on the world.
It's hard for me to completely comprehend how the Apollo 11 team, including Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins and thousands of lesser-known NASA employees, changed the world. I was born in 1978, nine years after the moon landing. How am I supposed to know what it was like before we landed on the moon? But considering the overwhelming number of stories I have seen from numerous sources in the past week since Armstrong died, I am getting a better understanding.
I'm really jealous of that era of space exploration. In a time of many fewer media outlets, the Space Race dominated the news. Aside from the news of the Mars Science Laboratory landing -- you better know it as Curiosity -- the only space news covered greatly by the major media has been when a disaster struck and when the shuttle program ended.
We need more inspiring missions from NASA. This is an organization that always seems to do a lot with the limited budget we give it. According to numbers from the U.S. Office of Budget and Management, NASA's funding in 2007 dollars peaked in 1965 at $33.5 billion and has been below $20 billion every year since 1969. In 2007 dollars, it is now at about $16 billion, less than half of what it was during its heyday. Yet our brightest just put a highly advanced rover on Mars and are developing rockets to finally rival the power of the Saturn V.
Armstrong was a reluctant hero. He was the ultimate nerd, including his honorary membership in the Kappa Kappa Psi national band fraternity, of which I am also a member. We have other distinguished members such as Bill Clinton and Chuck Norris, but neither of them walked on the frickin' moon!
In what has to be perfect timing, Armstrong's memorial service occurs today on the rare occurrence of a blue moon, the second full moon of a month. It's almost as if the Sun and Moon decided to pay tribute to Armstrong by giving us the best glimpse of where his team changed the world.
I'm still hopeful that our new track of including private space exploration will turn out well. It's a new pioneering episode because of how much money governments have spent doing big things in space. Armstrong was very critical of the Obama administration's decision to cancel the Constellation program and its goal of going back to the moon. I kind of agreed with him on the sentiment because it's silly that we haven't returned to the moon since 1972. It's ridiculous that we were able to develop the space shuttle for doing things in Earth orbit but never funded NASA enough to also send men farther than we went 43 years ago.
Maybe his death will help remind people what we did. Maybe the Space Launch System program will do more than just circle the moon in the next decade. When the rockets are built, it will be up to us to tell our leaders that we want more.
Neil's family requested as a memorial to give a wink at the moon. With tonight's blue moon, I think it's a fitting tribute that we can all give to one of our real heroes.
Michael Buckelew is a contributing writer for the Gwinnett Daily Post.