Monday, July 20, 2009

Marking the Passing of an Era

Two very significant observations from over the weekend and carrying on into today.

First the passing of Walter Cronkite (1916 -2009). I grew up watching this man masterfully relay the news of the day from behind his desk and with his authoritative voice talk bring the most important events of the world into our living room. Of course it was only as I got older that I really began to understand the breadth of his contributions and influence - and to be honest, its hard to understand any journalist today having that kind of influence, not to mention national respect. His integrity was so well regarded, some of you may have read or remember, that when Cronkite opined that the Viet Nam War was a mistake, Lyndon Johnson said, 'If we've lost Cronkite, we've lost middle America.' No one says that about even Rush Limbaugh (sorry, couldn't help it...)!

Walter Cronkite's passing, sets up the other commemorative observation: man's first walk on the moon.

Cronkite had a boyish and almost infectious enthusiasm when it came to America's space program. And even though I didn't understand it all (I just couldn't make heads nor tails out of the staticy communication between command control and the astronauts), Walter Cronkite made it all seem important. And it was.
I was 12 years old when Neil Armstrong uttered the words 'One small step for man; one giant leap for mankind' from the lunar surface. I remember talking about it with my friends and one thing that comes to mind is that we really couldn't relate to it. In our minds, black people weren't involved and it wasn't something we believed black people would ever be a part of. We mimicked (mind you, it was 12 - 14 year olds talking), what we heard from our parents - that there were other things that money could have been spent on and more pressing work to be done by the government. In fact, my grandfather, who was 72 at the time, steadfastly refused to believe that men landed on the moon!

For the record, I've come to see it as one of the most stunning achievements in the history of mankind. It is absolutely startling to me to think that I have a more technologically advanced computer as a phone, than these men had as a lunar module. When John Kennedy set this as ten year goal in 1963, there wasn't a soul on earth who knew how to accomplish it. Yet within ten years, and with the cost of precious lives it was achieved. Remarkable.

For me it stands as a historical marker that lets us know that men can achieve what they want to achieve, if we are willing to commit ourselves. We can educate ourselves and one another to accomplish phenomenal things, in the heavens and on earth. In my opinion, we've lost something by not going back and by not committing ourselves to even more manned and unmanned real space adventures. Advancements in science, technology and even international relations may have been further along if we had.

Now, nearly every 12 year old can relate. That makes it even more special!

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