It's hard to think of any positive undertaking that has galvanized the way Americans look at ourselves -- at least in the last half-century -- more than the Moon missions.
Now that we're celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing, it's worth both taking a look back and taking a look into the future.
For your look back, may I suggest taking in the screening of "Live From the Moon" at the Science Center of Iowa. It's happening tomorrow night (August 13th) here in Des Moines. Here's the announcement from SCI:
On July 20, 1969, people gathered around their televisions to witness the first humans set foot on the Moon.
This was all possible thanks to Iowa's own Collins Radio Co., an organization that was instrumental in leading the design and development of critical communication and navigation technology for all the Apollo missions.
Join employees from Collins Radio Company, now Collins Aerospace in Cedar Rapids, to discover the vital role the company played in the communications, telemetry and navigation systems that were used during Apollo 11 and the following missions.
The presentation will be followed by a screening of their new film, Live from the Moon.
You probably heard my conversation with Emilee Richardson of the Science Center on August 3rd, but in case you missed it, it's worth a listen: She's a great ambassador for science.They're offering some great programming, and it's not just for kids.
And as for your look into the future? While it's not necessary that we go back to the Moon for a particular national-defense purpose (and let's not kid ourselves; even a peaceful mission into space in the 1960s was also a missile-science program), something ambitious in space might be just the kind of thing we need to galvanize a sense of excitement around our identity as a nation.
People often point to the spinoff benefits of space programs (like Tang), but it's no small matter to give us all something to celebrate and cheer on together. We came close with the US Women's National Team in soccer, but even that success brought detractors out of the woodwork. It's really hard to galvanize a sense of community across 330 million people without a common threat (remember how unified we were for a brief moment after 9/11?), but an ambitious project may have the power to do the trick -- if it raises our sights sufficiently high.
Besides, in the long run, as a species we probably ought to start working on a backup plan in case another giant asteroid comes our way. Time for a human mission to Mars, anyone? It might be just what we need for the national soul.