Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

America can still do great things


July 31, 2019

Like a lot of Americans, I got caught up in the 50th anniversary of our first moon landing. My moment was on CSpan3, where I channel-surfed into Reel America’s Moonwalk One, a dated NASA documentary that tells the story of the first U.S. mission to the moon.

Now there was a moment when America was great.

It encourages me to know that when our nation really applies itself, we can do incredible things. Going to the moon in 1969 — when computers were as big as houses, digital technology was still a baby, and the moon was made of cheese for all we knew — was an incredible feat.

Plus, we did it in only eight years. John F. Kennedy’s 1961 declaration that we were going to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade effectively launched NASA’s first moon mission, and we’ve had a lifetime of real-life heroes to admire ever since.

Neil Armstrong is chief among them, but he’s only one of many.

Credit a generation that is dying off, the “Greatest Generation” — the ones who saved the world from tyranny and then, as if that wasn’t enough, took us to the moon and back.

I’m at a loss to think of anything that comes close to that feat in the half-century that followed, at least nothing that risky, that inspirational. Nothing’s come close since then.

There’s talk now of returning to the moon, even going to Mars, but the way our political leadership is these days, it won’t be the U.S. government leading the way. It’ll be private enterprise.

One of the things NASA had in 1969 that it doesn’t have now is a president who knew how to inspire and motivate. One can only laugh — or cry — at a comparison of John F. Kennedy to Donald J. Trump; just putting those two names into the same sentence seems an absurdity. To revisit Lloyd Bentsen’s famous quote from 1988: Trump makes Dan Quayle look like Jack Kennedy.

But 50 years ago, a walk on the moon was just what the nation needed. Those were tumultuous times. The Vietnam war was raging and protests against it, especially on college campuses, were growing stronger and louder. And the Civil Rights Movement was blossoming into more than a race-based movement, as women, gays, handicapped citizens, Natives, Chicanos and many, many more minorities were finding their voices and challenging this “more perfect union” to live up to its promises.

It was not a time for the nation to focus so much time, energy and money into the sideshow of putting a man on the moon, but we did it anyway — and for a while there, it made us stronger.

We may not have a JFK to inspire us these days, but we do have our share of tumultuous times to live through. It would do us well to remember that when we set our minds and our resources to it, we can do great things.

Tom McDonald is editor of the New Mexico Community News Exchange. Contact him at:

[email protected]


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