America is Exceptional – Apollo 11 Anniversary

Posted on Wednesday, July 20, 2022
by AMAC, Robert B. Charles
Apollo 11

America is exceptional, ideologically, historically, and objectively. No nation in human history has invented, created, courageously advanced, humbly corrected, dared to imagine, committed to achieve, or as consistently damned the odds to determine the future of mankind. None. The 53rd anniversary of America’s first moon landing – Apollo 11 – is an apt occasion for remembering who we are.

Americans are defined – in many ways – by being uncontainable, unpredictable, irrepressible in their enthusiasm for pushing parameters of the human experience, from scientific discovery and distillation of timeless truths to defending individual liberty, advancing equality, and standing up for underdogs.

No nation in human history has done more to lift other nations, prevent the darkness of medieval barbarism, communism, fascism, starvation, malnutrition, war’s devastation, catastrophic miscalculation, lawlessness, or global fracturing than we have. It is in our ideological DNA,

America – the courage and conviction of our founders – moved humanity from assuming monarchy, tyranny, theocracy, poverty, immovable classes, ethnic clashes, and destitution were the norm, to believing anything was possible, including self-determination, modulation of differences, upward mobility, mutual defense of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” a common interest in maximizing individual liberty. 

Until we did that, no nation in human history had ever done that.  We were just beginning…We recognized, celebrated, and then institutionalized rights to free speech, free press, freedom to worship as we wished, respect for these rights in all others, with a God-given right to defend ourselves, families, communities, and the People’s sovereignty – against any threat, foreign or domestic, to these rights.

We lionized courage, can-do, and other cornerstone freedoms, rights to due process, equal opportunity and protections under the law, freedom from government overreach, the unfairness of things like unreasonable detention, search and seizure, or accusation, cruel and unusual punishment.

When the unfairness of slavery could not be contained, we fought a war within ourselves, vindicating the conscience of the nation, affirming the importance of equality and liberty.

In time, we crafted constitutional amendments and laws that elevated women, protected children, sanctified citizenship, equalized economic, educational, athletic, and workplace opportunities, while rewarding human inventiveness with patents, trademarks, protection of small businesses.

A nation of immigrants and descendants, we know the primacy of citizenship and the synergy of our differentness. For all the cultural conflict, most of us know we are stronger for our variety.

Concretely, we have risen to save Europe twice, sought to preserve stability in the Middle and Far East more than once, rolled back communism in the Cold War, at a terrible cost in lives.

No less important, we have been pioneers in medicine, science, engineering, aviation, diplomacy, miliary counterforce, and cultural advancement. Americans have earned more than 400 Nobel Prizes since the award’s inception, with the closest competitors Great Britain at 137, Germany at 111, France at 71, Russia at 32, Japan at 29.  Communist China has earned nine.

But perhaps the most stunning example of American imagination, vision, risk-taking, innovation, dogged determination, unwillingness to quit, resolve to replace nuclear war with a surrogate was the “Space Race.” This geopolitical contest – on the world stage – put humans on the moon.

In May 1961, President Kennedy pledged to place a man on the moon within the decade. As it turned out, America would place 12 men on the moon, and bring them all home safely.

The pioneers in this impossible quest were the Apollo 11 crewmembers – Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Mike Collins. Their mission occurred 53 years ago this week – and is worth recalling, because it represents everything America is, intrepid, resilient, courageous, resolved.

To these three belong the unrivalled honor of being first. Buzz has been a tireless ambassador for American leadership in space, human exploration, keeping alive the Apollo inspiration.

Now 92, Buzz is still an active champion of space tourism, human return to the moon, and human permanence on Mars. A combat fighter pilot, Gemini and Apollo astronaut, pioneering moonwalker, author, and patriot, he holds a PhD in astronautical engineering from MIT. 

Aldrin’s words resonate. Having known him for decades, my thoughts turn to him at this anniversary. He notes liftoff on July 16, 1969 “was exciting” and “as countdown proceeded…we were glad we didn’t have to start over again.” Launch was “surprisingly smooth…“could see our rate of climb and altitude changing, but we were comfortable in our seats…We sort of looked at each other and thought, ‘We must be on our way…what’s next?’”

Any fresh thoughts about landing? “As we approached the moon…we leveled off and kept moving down and forward to land…knew we were continuing to burn fuel…then we heard 30 seconds left…was nice to finally touch down.”

Surprises? “We saw our shadow cast in front of us as we landed, something we never saw in the simulator. That was new…I saw dust creating a haze, not particles but a haze from the engine pushing dust up.” 

Then? “The light turned on, I announced ‘contact light,’ ‘engine stop’…We were happy to have landed…As Neil climbed down the ladder, mission control told us they were getting an image, but it was upside down…They fixed that…Neil decided where to put the camera, and I got out two experiments…”

“We were focused on the experiments, making sure they were level, pointed toward the sun. One experiment involved a sort of level which with a small BB settling in the center of a cone. In one-sixth gravity, the BB kept going around and around. I stepped away, did other work, and then came back – and found the BB centered and experiment level.”

Thoughts on splashdown? “Well… we had to throw a switch to release the parachutes, only it was a bit bumpy, so we tipped over before we could release the parachutes, then the balloons tipped us right side up again. It was good to be back, eventually to see and talk with family.”

Final thoughts? “It was a privilege to have been on that first manned mission to the lunar surface, an honor to have worked with so many good and dedicated people, and to have left our footprints there. Sometimes, I marvel that we went to the moon. I think, it is time for the next generation to set their eyes on Mars.” America exceptional? You bet. Buzz has no doubt. Now, on to Mars!