Forty years from one step

Like almost everyone in my generation (who isn’t more than three years older than me) has lived in a world where humans have set foot on the moon. For us, this isn’t just an historical event — it’s a part of our culture. Almost everyone knows the phrase:

That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.

It’s more than a line from a movie. It’s more than a scene from a newsreel. It’s more than a footnote from a history textbook. It’s the moment when the sheer power of human will and imagination proved that the impossible is not beyond reach.

Beyond the political undertones of the event (the Space Race was the most publically-visible part of the Cold War), it was something that brought considerable recognition to NASA and to the United States. Humanity had only taken flight a mere six-and-a-half decades before. Flown to the edges of space only a decade earlier. And in what today seems like unparalleled hubris, spent billions of dollars just to plant a flag on an extraterrestial surface.

It’s a lifetime ago. And every child born since 20 July 1969 will live in a world knowing that there are possibilities beyond our gravitational prison, that with enough drive, desire, and determination, there is literally nothing to hold us back.

I look at my daughter, and I wonder what will happen in her lifetime. Not just that someone walked on the moon. That the dreams aren’t dead, that we are not hoping for more than mere existence. That the desire to go beyond still lives on, that the need to grow isn’t limited by mere perceptions of economies. That humanity continues to grow, to expand, to learn, to adapt, to evolve.

It has been four decades since that moment. Since then, humanity has had a near-constant presence in space. But the path has been retarded, held back by governments and waning interest. I can only hope that with the anniversary, and with the plans for the Constellation program, that interest returns, and the fire may one day be restoked.

It’s isn’t about where someone walked. But where someone will walk next.