July 20 marked the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the moon. While during this month the country reflected back on those colossal moments of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepping onto Earth’s closest neighbor in space, it is a reminder for us all that getting to the moon is as important today as it was in 1969 — and not just because we were the first to land there.
While that is important, what is key to remember today is that America did so during one of the most politically turbulent times in our history.
There are numerous parallels between the political climate of the 1960s and the political climate of 2019, specifically the intersection of space and geopolitics.
To truly understand the relevance of the moon landing, and what it meant for not just the United States but for the world, you have to understand the political atmosphere of that time.
From the start of the space race, the Soviet Union was a step ahead of the U.S. In October 1957, the USSR launched the first satellite, Sputnik 1, which successfully orbited Earth in a mere 98 minutes. This launch shocked both the American government and general public, and caught our nation off guard. Sputnik was an astounding technological achievement and it proved what the Soviets were capable of. For Americans at this time, this launch substantiated their worst fear: If the Soviets could circle the Earth with a satellite, what was to say they would not do so with nuclear weaponry?
In an attempt to catch up to the Soviets, the U.S. started NASA, which eventually opened the door for the Apollo program. Eleven years and $28 billion later, Americans landed men on the moon, three years after the USSR sent up an unmanned craft that made a soft landing on the lunar surface.
Today, 50 years later, a new space race is starting — one that may have even more profound and far-reaching implications then the original 1969 moon landing.
In recent years, space has become increasingly dominant in the international geopolitical conversation. In 2018, President Donald Trump suggested the possibility that a sixth branch of the military, called the Space Force, may be in the works. Currently, China is the only country in the world to have an independent space force, which was established in 2016.
This in and of itself signals a change in how America and other countries are starting to view space. The United Nations’ Outer Space Treaty, which was written in 1966 and first signed in 1967, specified that “the exploration and use of outer space shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries and shall be the province of all mankind.” This treaty essentially made space a “peaceful province.”
However, the events of recent years do not seem to reflect the idea of space as a “peaceful province.” More countries are racing into space, and the reasons for landing on the moon are becoming less and less clear.
In January, China became the first country to land a spaceship on the far, dark side of the moon. The United States has also shown a renewed interest in the moon; earlier this year, Vice President Mike Pence announced the country’s aspiration to put a new set of astronauts on the moon by 2024. Just days ago, on July 22, India sought to become the fourth county to make a soft landing on the moon — land a craft there in a controlled manner — by launching Chandrayaan-2 as that nation’s first lunar craft. Chandrayaan-2 is meant to survey and study the moon’s south pole.
The time is coming for Americans to once again look to the moon with a vision.
We already put a man on the moon. Now it’s our goal to keep him there.