[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/TECH/space/07/17/moon.landing.hoax/art.aldrin.nasa.jpg caption="Moon landing hoax theorists point to the "rippling" flag as evidence the landings were faked."]
CNN Senior National Editor
Sitting on the edge of the bed in my parents’ bedroom upstairs.
That’s where I watched the Apollo 11 astronauts step onto the moon.
If you are of a certain age, you remember where you were on July 20, 1969.
I remember when a television would be wheeled into my grade school classrooms so that we could watch the launch of the Mercury or Gemini missions and later the splashdown and recovery of the astronauts by Navy divers.
I remember a plastic space helmet and wanting to be John Glenn aboard “Friendship 7,” the third Mercury mission and the first to orbit the earth.
By July 16, 1969, when Apollo 11 launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the public was still a ways off from becoming inattentive to the space program.
Apollo 11 was an occasion for global fascination and for an America mired in a divisive jungle war thousands of miles away, a source of national pride.
The mission was the product of years of behind-the-scenes science and engineering trial-and-error.
In the early years of the space program, there were rockets that did not launch properly.
There was a fire that killed three astronauts in their capsule as they trained for the Apollo 11 mission.
But the successes were cheered from the White House to Main Street to school classrooms across the land.
Forty years later, the success of Apollo 11 stands as a testament to American ingenuity and a marker from a period of history known as the “Cold War.”
"The Apollo program is not replicable," Dr. John M. Logsdon, director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, wrote in Space News. "It was a product of a specific time in history, as the Soviet Union and the United States were using space firsts as a surrogate battlefield for their global geopolitical competition. It was definitely not part of a societal commitment to space exploration and development."
The mission to the moon was outlined by a young President to a nation fascinated with their relatively young leader and his vision of a “New Frontier.”
Recall the words of President John F. Kennedy before a joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961: “First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”
Eight years later, Sid Liebergot was an electrical, environmental and communications officer in mission control for the Apollo 11 mission.
“We were young, and we were fearless and, after all, nobody had ever told us young engineers that we couldn’t successfully land humans on another planet. So we did it,” Liebergot said.
Could America do something on this scale again?
America today is different in so many ways.
Public enthusiasm for the space program is not what it was then.
The missions most remembered since the landing on the moon probably are Apollo 13, which put the phrase “Houston we have a problem” into the public lexicon, and the tragedies of the shuttles Challenger and Columbia.
That is a shame, because much has been accomplished in four decades in understanding how man (and woman) function in space and in unmanned missions to planets and world’s beyond our moon.
Indeed, there is debate within the scientific community over the value of manned space flight compared with the abilities of robots and probes to explore our universe.
Last November I wrote in this space about a former colleague’s lament that – contrary to the expectations of our early 1960s childhood – space travel for the average man and woman would not be realized in our lifetimes.
In response to that blog, “Tammy” from Louisiana commented, “The opportunities space has for us are endless, the knowledge is endless, and I fear we as a nation forget how amazing this all still is sometimes.”
Indeed, advocates of space exploration worry that in a time of earthly concerns what lies beyond the world we know will become an afterthought.
And that would be too bad, for as the poet Robert Browning said, “Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp. Or what's a heaven for?”
Author’s note: There are a lot of websites devoted to the Apollo 11 mission. Two, in particular, caught my attention. Popular Mechanics reveals the “untold story” of Apollo 11 here and go to www.wechoosethemoon.org and click on “follow the mission on Twitter” for a combination of 1969 history and 2009 technology.
Anderson Cooper goes beyond the headlines to tell stories from many points of view, so you can make up your own mind about the news. Tune in weeknights at 8 and 10 ET on CNN.
Questions or comments? Send an email
Want to know more? Go behind the scenes with