One large act of political will

The 1969 moon landing was not just a huge technical accomplishment

The fact that NASA was able to put a man on the moon 50 years ago, and that they did it with 1960s technology, were amazing feats of mathematics, engineering and science.

Even more amazing, though, was that the United States had the political will to pull it off.

In the eight years between President John F. Kennedy’s bold assertion of May 25, 1961 that the U.S. would put people on the moon by the end of the decade and Neil Armstrong’s “one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind,” on July 21, 1969, there were the assassination of a president, three congressional elections and two presidential elections.

It is one thing to have the vision to take on an incredibly ambitious goal, it is entirely another to not only dedicate the required resources, but to sustain it through political change.

It did not hurt, of course, that the ethos of the time was a battle for supremacy between two competing politico-economic systems, democratic capitalism versus autocratic communism. For America, when it came to the Cold War, there was no room for partisanship between democrats and republicans.

Nor did it hurt that Kennedy’s presidential successor was his vice-president, Lyndon B. Johnson, a longtime Senate majority leader with a reputation for his coercive ability to advance legislation.

Nevertheless, the moon landing was an exceptional accomplishment by any standard and on many levels, and one that captivated the world.

It was broadcast live and nearly three-quarters of a billion people, (out of a population of 3.6 billion) tuned in. While TV was by no means in its infancy by then, it was also not nearly as ubiquitous as it is now. The BBC recently hailed it as “the greatest single broadcast in television history.”

The world has changed dramatically in the last half-century. For one thing, the population has more than doubled and the planet is showing the strains.

As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the remarkable accomplishment that was Apollo 11, perhaps we can also take some inspiration because it is going to take the same kind of political will that made that possible to tackle the pressing issues of 2019.

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