Apollo 11 Revisited

July 15, 2009 at 4:46 am by Frank White
Tags: 40th anniversary of moon landing, Apollo 11, President Kennedy, the Overview Effect

Last night, I watched some of NASA's coverage of the Apollo 11 mission, and of the missions that led up to it. I again felt some of the awe that I experienced in 1969, realizing what an amazing achievement it was to navigate to the moon and back with 1960s technology and knowledge. I was also struck by something that Tom Putnam, director of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum said in announcing that the library would be commemorating the moon landing by reproducing the Apollo 11 journey online at WeChooseTheMoon.org, starting at 8:02 am on Thursday, July 16. Putnam said, "Putting a man on the moon really did unite the globe. We hope to use the Internet to do the same thing."

As I watched the NASA coverage of Apollo 11, I realized that Putnam was right. People all over the planet were gathered around television sets watching the Apollo touchdown, and talking about it in just about every human language. And they were all privileged to see the most extraordinary event of Earthrise, as our planet hovered over the moon, half of it lit by the sun, half in darkness.

It occurred to me that, while President Kennedy receives plenty of credit for the space program in general and Apollo in particular, he may not be acknowledged enough for his contribution to giving us an experience of the Overview Effect, the sense of unity and oneness that seeing the Earth from space offers to our entire world. Reading some of his other speeches, I think he did have the sense that we are all crew members of Spaceship Earth, and that we need to work together to navigate through this vast and unknown universe. I hope his legacy clearly includes this contribution to humanity.

Frank White