Forty-three years ago, people around the globe knew they were witnessing something special on live television that hot summer night in July.
It truly was an event for the ages.
Here in America, we watched with great pride the fulfillment of the challenge that President John F. Kennedy had made eight years earlier in 1961: "I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon."
When he stepped out of the Eagle landing craft and onto the rocky surface of the moon on July 20, 1969, mission commander Neil Armstrong Jr. achieved Kennedy's dream and as one national writer said fulfilled "a centuries-old dream of men everywhere."
This newspaper, then the "Carbon County Times News & Record" realized the significance of the moment, proclaiming in huge bold letters "MEN WALK ON MOON." "The men on the moon must certainly rank as the late show to end all late shows," the TIMES NEWS opinion writer stated the next day.
Echoing those same feelings, as well as the thoughts of millions of Americans and people around the globe, the opinion writer for the Tamaqua Courier was awestruck in his commentary on the epic moon landing.
"Man has embarked on a new adventure and scientists from all over the world, even the Iron Curtain countries, will share in the knowledge we gain from America's billion-dollar shot," he wrote. "Now that we have landed men on the moon, we know that nothing is impossible in space, and that the far-reaching planets of the universe are attainable in time."
While growing up, one of the Americans I most admired was Neil Armstrong, our humble hero of space. America was spellbound when he uttered those immortal words over four decades ago: "Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed."
Two-and-a-half hours later, Armstrong exited his lunar module and stepped onto the moon for the first time. "That's one small step for man. One giant leap for mankind," he said to all Earthlings who watched mesmerized by the play-by-play unfolding on our television screens 238,857 miles away.
Armstrong died Saturday at age 82 after surgery earlier this month for blocked coronary arteries. Few people outside his immediate family knew that our quiet American hero had been sick. We certainly did not, even though we mentioned his name, along with fellow Apollo astronauts Jim Lovell and Gene Cernan in our Opinion last Friday, in a commentary concerning the failure of this administration to recognize and preserve our legacy in space.
Two years ago, Armstrong made a rare public criticism of the decision to cancel the Ares 1 launch vehicle and the Constellation moon landing program. In an open public letter, also signed by Lovell and Cernan, he stated: "For The United States, the leading space faring nation for nearly half a century, to be without carriage to low Earth orbit and with no human exploration capability to go beyond Earth orbit for an indeterminate time into the future, destines our nation to become one of second or even third rate stature."
Although America's standing in space exploration has faded in recent years, the legacy of Neil Armstrong and his Apollo colleagues will never diminish. His name is preserved forever in the dozens of elementary, middle and high schools named in his honor, not to mention the numerous places around the world which have streets, buildings, schools, and other places named for him.
Neil Armstrong reinvigorated a nation during the Soaring Sixties. Men with his kind of bold vision, high achievement and strength of character are rare and make us proud to be called Americans.
By Jim Zbick