We stared at the television, straining to see the grainy black-and-white footage of the lunar landscape. The spaceship looked like something built with Legos, and the astronaut looked like the Michelin man, moving awkwardly on the cratered grey surface. Neil Armstrong spoke his historic words as we – my siblings and cousins and I – watched in awestruck silence.
Given the crappy technology, sketchy information, and rockets that looked like overblown tin cans, it says something about that era that we were able to pull it off. Insanity, yes, but audacity too. The 60s were fueled by highs and lows: civil rights gains, assassinations, free love, war, protests, revolutions, hair, sex, drugs, rock and roll. The lunar landing capped the decade with an exclamation point. We put a man on the moon! Even we grade schoolers felt like America, too, was lifting off, destined for great things.
Something happened in the 70s, though. Nixon, sure, and a loss of faith in the powers-that-be. An ugly ending to an ugly war. Perhaps a desire for everything to be good again, like it seemed to be in the glorified 50s. A sense among our elders that too much freedom had upset the balance, and grumblings that it was about time those crazy teenagers grew up and got real jobs. F– the Establishment became Join the Establishment, and by the 1980s, when I entered the working world, it seemed simplest to focus on making money. So we good girls and boys did just that.
In the 30 years since then, a new generation has come of age, and they’re having none of it. In a sense, they’re picking up from the lunar landing and saying we can do better. They want to know why we still have to point out that black lives matter, why the ERA was never passed, why who someone marries is anyone else’s business, and why a woman’s body is not her own to manage. They are the reincarnation of those peace-loving beatniks, and they’re just as mystified that they have to state the obvious. Like their forebears, they are vocal and bold and relentless.
And, as in the 1960s, they’re getting push back. The Establishment, now a smaller but far wealthier crowd, have other means of silencing the miscreants. They intend to buy the influence and the governance, to own the corporations and the infrastructure, until there’s nothing left for anyone else. We the People have been lulled into complacency before. It can be done again. It’s not rocket science.
What stands between today and a repeat of the history that grounded us is the Internet. It is the inevitable galaxy we’ve been launched into by technology and evolution. Within it, a grassroots effort spreads like wildfire, and the power of the people is without borders. We find our tribes, we find our causes, we speak up, we listen, we learn. We push change. We strain upward despite the forces that want to hold us down.
NASA’s manned space program ended in 2011. Like so many things begun in that mythical decade, it failed to live up to its initial promise. Its message lingers, though, in that old black-and-white footage. We put a man on the moon. We dared to achieve an impossible goal in the most chaotic of times.
We put a man on the moon.