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nation-altering event of the 1960s. Specifically it will discuss man's first walk on the moon by astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldren, and how it stimulated the nation's growth, made an indelibly positive impression upon America's institutions, and if it/they provide sufficient substance to be incorporated into the future study of America during the 1960s.
MAN ON THE MOON
One of the most important and nation altering events to occur in the 1960s was the Apollo astronaut program, specifically, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldren's successful walk on the moon on July 20, 1969.
On July 20, 1969, people around the world watched in awe as Neil Armstrong became the first human to walk on the moon. The event symbolized, as Armstrong laconically radioed to earth, a "giant leap for mankind." In fact, the achievement was so overwhelming that a few people refused to believe it actually occurred, claiming that it must have been a hoax staged on some studio back lot.
This event is extremely significant in history, and it altered America forever in many diverse ways. In fact, "President Richard Nixon went so far as to call the mission 'the greatest week in the history of the world since the Creation.'"
Choosing this particular event was not difficult, for it embodies how technology began to play such an important and vital role in our society, from our television viewing habits, to space flight, to computers and technology playing a part in our home lives. It also illustrates how Americans developed nation-altering technology in only twelve years that allowed man to walk on the moon, thereby winning the "space race" with Russia, who was also endeavoring to put a man on the moon at the same time. They never succeeded, and America's space program, though fraught with accidents, has continued to lead the world in technology and continuing achievement.
The technological advances leading to July 20, 1969 had their roots in the German V-2 rocket program used in World War II to blitz London with bombs. Nearing the end of World War II Germany clearly commanded the lead in rocket technology. When the German war machine began to collapse, the German rocket scientists met covertly, under the steady gaze of the SS, to decide whether to remain at Peenemunde and surrender to Soviet forces or to surrender to U.S. forces. In early 1945, the lead scientist, Wernher Von Braun, arranged for the secret transfer of employees, scientists, and their families, approximately five thousand people, from Peenemunde to various safe houses nearby.
Eventually the German scientists and their families were moved to White Sands, New Mexico where the U.S. rocket program was born. "In all, 67 V-2 rockets were assembled and tested at White Sands between 1946 and 1952, providing the U.S. with valuable experience in the assembly, pre-flight testing, handling, fueling, launching, and tracking of large missiles."
These rockets were the precursors to the rocket technology that would someday allow man to walk on the moon.
In the early 1960's, President John F. Kennedy committed the U.S. To a decade long race to the moon. The space race between the U.S.S.R. And the U.S. was now at its peak and the engineering ability of the U.S. was soon to be put to the test. Technology, policy, and procedure did not exist and had to be developed. The rocket scientists at White Sands were put to the test, and although they had many failures, they ultimately succeeded in creating the Saturn V rockets that blasted the Apollo program to the moon.
First came the Mercury project, where America put men in space. On May 5, 1961, Major Alan Shepard, a Naval academy graduate and test pilot, climbed aboard the Freedom 7 capsule atop a Redstone rocket and became the first American in space. Shepard's flight was sub-orbital and lasted only 15 minutes, but it showed America we could still be vital in the space race (which the Russians were winning at the moment), and it kindled spirit and passion in the minds of Americans. The Mercury program ran from 1958 to 1963, and satisfied all its objectives. The Gemini flights between 1965 and 1966 were designed to transition between the Mercury exercises and the Apollo moon missions. The Gemini flights were to teach us how maneuver a spacecraft by maneuvering it in orbit, rendezvousing in space, docking with other vehicles, perfecting methods of entering the atmosphere, and landing at a preselected point on land. Additional information was successfully investigated on how the human body would react to weightlessness, and other effects encountered on extended period flights. These building blocks were essential to the future Apollo missions
The assassination of President Kennedy in 1963 may have reinforced the resolve of the American people to meet his challenge. The engineering might of the United States was solidly focused in the Apollo program to put an American on the moon before the end of the decade. On July 20, 1969, almost every television in the world was tuned to the landing of Apollo 11 on the moon. With Neil Armstrong's historic and lasting words: "That's one small step for man. One giant leap for mankind," the space race was over. The United States had beaten the Soviet Union.
What this meant for the nation was multi-dimensional. First, millions of people gathered around their television sets on July 20, 1969 as the first photos live from the moon were beamed back to Earth. These photographs were amazing, and led even news commentators such as Walter Cronkite to shake their heads in wonder and amazement. This eventually led to a kind of numbing of the American public to the dangers of space flight, as further Apollo missions became routine and "every day." Americans quickly became used to the technology, and wanted to move along to something new and different.
However, the photos from space changed the way Americans saw their world. For the first time, Americans could see the entire Earth from space, and it made people much more aware of the fragility of our planet, and how it was really such a tiny speck in the infinite area of space.
The photograph of Earthrise encouraged the shift in focus from outer to inner space. It was an example of cultural eversion, in which a process taken to its extreme becomes its opposite. If the moon landing was the culmination of a half millennium drive to gain dominion over nature, then the sight of our fragile, lonely world seemed pivotal in turning the quest inward -- not just to psychology, mythology, and metaphysics, but to the new self-awareness that comes when one realizes that the parent is mortal. The photograph enabled some to see Earth as an organism capable of death. "As with a childhood home," said astronaut Jack Schmitt, "we see the Earth clearly only as we prepare to leave it."
This made an indelibly positive impression on America. Not only had we won the race to the moon, proving our superiority over the Soviet Union, our astronauts had landed on the moon, beamed back amazing photos of their exploits, and made it safely back to earth. They were national heroes, and suddenly every little boy in America wanted to grow up to be an astronaut. Our entire society had changed overnight, from one where space flight was still amazing, to one where it became commonplace - filling virtually every television on the planet. The technology needed to get the program to that point would also change America. Computers would become just as commonplace as televisions, and numerous developments created by NASA for the space program, from Tang orange drink to Velcro, would also become commonplace. Clearly, July 20, 1969 was not simply an historic event; it created historic implications for decades to come.
After he returned to earth, Armstrong mused about his historic lunar trip, "Man has always been an explorer. There's a fascination in thrusting out and going to new places. It is like going through a door because you find the door in front of you. I think that man loses something if he has the option to go to the moon and does not take it."
Indeed, America learned many things from our trips to the moon. As the near tragic mission of Apollo 13 in 1970 illustrated, we were not infallible in space. However, space flight stimulated the nation's growth in myriad ways. Television viewers became used to watching life changing events when they happened, from walking on the moon to the war with Iraq, if it is happening, the nation wants to see it right now. Many technological advances came from the Mercury and Apollo programs and beyond, from lightweight metal alloys to smaller and smaller computer guidance systems which eventually turned into desktop computers so extremely prevalent in the world today. If we had not gone to the moon, our lives today might be much different, and so would many of our institutions. Space flight stimulated…[continue]
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