I was six months old when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. My earliest memory I could assign a date to wouldn't happen for another 44 months — Muhammad Ali lost his first fight with Ken Norton on March 31, 1973, and left the ring with a broken jaw. I loved Muhammad Ali — how he bounced around and rhymed and teased — and it bothered me to see him hurt.
But on July 20, 1969, the Eagle landed on the moon's surface, and almost seven hours later, Neil Armstrong took his one small step into the dust. I was months from taking any steps, small or large, and I certainly don’t remember any of that, but it must have made an impression, that incomparable event.
I was born in 1969, into an age of possibility. If we could walk across that ragged white face — always presenting its good side to us, always triumphing over its own darkness — then what couldn't we do? Surely this set a tone for the baby in the room. I've always believed I could do anything, and I'm doing everything I can to pass that understanding on to my own kids.
I've heard people slightly older than me talk about witnessing those first steps on the lunar surface. Bedtimes were negotiated away as whole families peered into TV screens the size of today’s dorm microwaves, just to witness the impossible.
I'm a big fan of the space program. The discoveries about the moon, the solar system and what lies beyond are wondrous, of course, but let's not forget how it has enhanced our understanding of our own planet.
And there have been so many boons to our lives on Earth — Teflon (out of favor for cooking but necessary in artificial hearts), LASIK eye surgery, artificial limbs. We've gained those silver space blankets, aircraft anti-icing systems, better tires, enriched baby food. We can purify water, freeze-dry food, use powdered lubricants and solar cells and air-scrubbers.
The space race allowed science to flourish, and we have benefitted in myriad ways. But I also like to think of those families, gathered around their black-and-white televisions and watching something more marvelous than any program they'd ever seen there before.
I'm for that — for gripping a loved one’s arm and breathing, "Can you believe this?" and meaning something brave and beautiful and hopeful.
Here's to the bravery and sacrifice of so many bold dreamers and people of science who pulled it off, 50 years ago this Saturday.