What will follow one giant leap?

Published 10:28 pm Saturday, July 18, 2009

Editor’s Note: The editorial below was first published in the Thursday, July 24, 1969 edition of the Suffolk News-Herald following the safe return to earth of the Apollo 11 astronauts:

Almost as astounding as the achievement itself is the rapidity with which it has been accepted.

All the doubts, the uncertainties, the fears that preceded the epochal moment, shared by hundreds of millions here on earth almost as firsthand experience, are eclipsed by the fact. Man has set foot on another world.

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Space has not yet been conquered. But will be, although the conquest is sure to be long, hesitating at times, filled with new doubts, uncertainties, fears and disappointments. We all know it now as certainly as do the men of Apollo 11.

Never before has so much of humanity been aware simultaneously of a turning point in the human story. Behind us lies the earthbound past, the long millenniums of man’s struggle up from primeval darkness. Ahead lies a future in the stars as yet only dimly perceived but, we are now certain, inevitable.

It is indeed “a giant leap for all mankind,” not only for the billions who inhabit earth today but for a ll the untold generations which have gone before. It is a link in the unbroken – and, we may hope, unbreakable – chain of human progress.

Cave dwellers who first turned stones into tools have contributed as surely as have the two men who have walked on the moon, the thousands who have participated in the Apollo program, the many more different times and lands who have added bit by seemingly unrelated bit to theory and technology that have released man from earth.

The conquest of space truly transcends time and divisions of man. It is as if all of human history has been preparation, a gathering of strength and knowledge and a focusing of purpose toward this moment. The men who first walked the moon happen to be Americans. But that is only because the organization that has shaped all that has gone before into successful achievement of the goal has been an awesome and indisputably American contribution.

Not the least of achievements of Apollo 11 is the sense of unity it imparted to men on earth, not only Americans but people of all lands who shared in the drama and saw it for what it is, a triumph of all men. If only a portion of this sense of community and interest can be retained, the moon program will be well worth the immense cost and effort.

Already attention shifts to what is to come. This November, Apollo 12 will land in the Oceanus Procellarum, the relatively smooth area that covers much of the moon’s western face. Apollo 13 and 14 are targeted for rougher areas, first looks at the moon’s tortured highlands.

Step by small but increasingly confident step, the exploration of the lunar surface will continue until Apollo 20, the last mission now definitely scheduled, sets down in the deep crater of Copernicus in July, 1972. By then, a new course to the planets will have been charted.

Neil Armstrong’s “one small step for man” will have become a conquering stride.