Apollo 11 at Fifty

Today is the fiftieth anniversary of one of the most important achievements in human history: the Apollo 11 moon landing. I find the project incredibly inspiring. I tear up every time I think of the words inscribed in the base of the Eagle lander, which was left behind on the lunar surface:

Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon July 1969, A.D. We came in peace for all mankind.

Some people speak dismissively of Apollo, saying we ought to spend money on problems here on Earth rather than going to space. I wasn’t alive when Armstrong and Aldrin walked on the moon, but from what I gather it was a momentous event that brought the whole world together. I’ve only experienced that degree of global cohesion in my lifetime due to tragic events (E.g., 9/11, the 2004 Indonesian tsunami, etc.) Apollo stands out as a positive achievement that united the world. We need more challenges like it — especially in our polarized times.

There are lots of lessons in the moon program for anyone tasked with aligning and motivating people towards wickedly complex goals. (That’s why we refer to particularly gnarly challenges as “moonshots.”) Over the last few weeks I’ve been reading books, watching documentaries, and listening to podcasts about Apollo. If you’d like to look into it, here are a few resources that are worth your while:

  • APOLLO 11 (2019) – A breathtaking new documentary assembled from contemporary (yet astonishingly clear) footage and audio sources. I also loved the synthesized soundtrack; like the film, it manages to sound both modern and of its time.
  • 13 Minutes to the Moon – A podcast from the BBC World Service that features interviews with surviving members of the Apollo program, including astronauts, mission controllers, and more.
  • Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut’s Journeys – A memoir by Apollo astronaut Michael Collins. I’m still working through this one, but can already recommend it due to the quality of the writing and the level of detail it provides. (I’ve also posted a few things I learned from it already.)