Fifty years ago this past Saturday, more than 600 million people from around the world were united in a common experience: To watch as the first humans set foot on the moon.
It was part of a journey that had begun eight years earlier, culminating in a 76-hour, 200,000-mile trek to reach the farthest point that humans had ever touched within our universe.
As Neil Armstrong opened the hatch of the Apollo 11 lunar module at 10:39 p.m. on July 20 and began descending the ladder toward the moon’s surface, it didn’t matter what language he spoke or political party he belonged to — and the only race that mattered as he created the first lunar footprint was that of the human race.
As he took that first “small step” and uttered his now famous words referring to mankind’s giant leap, the moment illustrated a couple of undeniable truths about our species.
The first is that when we are at our best, the impossible becomes possible.
To truly appreciate the magnitude of obstacles that needed to be overcome in order to achieve the first moon landing and safely return astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins and Armstrong, you only have to look at the iPhone in your pocket.
Today, within that handheld device, you wield more computer processing power than the entire NASA space program had in the 1960s.
Yet some 400,000 scientists, researchers and engineers worked in collaboration and solved what historians have called the “10,000 impossible questions” facing the mission.
Which brings me to the second undeniable truth about mankind: To live in peace together, we must either be united in a common threat or common goal.
In 1972, after the completion of the final mission in the Apollo program, about 30 NASA leaders met for a few days at Caltech to review what had been accomplished and how they had achieved the challenge of the century.
Armstrong was the last to speak, walking quietly to the chalkboard and drawing four bell-type curves. He labeled them Leadership, Threat, Economy and Talent, then said, “When you get all these lined up, you can’t stop something really big from happening.”
Fifty years ago, on July 21, the Apollo 11 began its journey back to Earth, leaving behind a plaque on the surface of the moon that reads:
Here men from the planet Earth first set foot on the moon—July 1969 A.D.—We came in peace for all mankind.
As we continue to reflect on the 50th anniversary of achieving the impossible, we need to ask ourselves whether the next small step we take will unite us through leadership, economy and talent — and if that unity will be the fleeting kind created by a common threat, or a lasting peace for all mankind that comes through sharing a common goal.