Please dare to wonder.
We hope all northern Michiganders take a few moments tonight to step outside and peer into the night sky. If we’re lucky, and skies are clear, we may catch a glimpse of the moon as it swims alone through the inky-black canvas above us.
It’s the same moon that helped unite Americans on this date 50 years ago as Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin touched down on the moon and later stepped out onto the dusty lunar surface.
That moment, Armstrong’s words, and the grainy images broadcast back to Earth became indelible for those who bore witness. It also shaped generations born since.
It was a night — one of only a few in our nation’s history — when, at least for a few hours, maybe a few days, we were united nearly unconditionally. And this time that unanimity was the product of something far more rare than the things that bring us together — fear, anger, sorrow — in times of national crisis.
No, this night we came together around collective wonder.
Those steps were the culmination of an audacious declaration made by President John F. Kennedy seven years earlier.
“We choose to go to the moon in this decade,” Kennedy declared in 1962.
It was a bold promise that came just 15 months after a NASA Mercury rocket lifted an American astronaut into space for the first time.
It also kicked off one of the few eras when our nation rallied around a challenge to achieve, not a challenge to survive or conquer.
Yes, the space race was a competition against Russian efforts to first reach space, then land on the moon. And yes, Americans were deeply divided in many other ways, including over the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement.
But reaching the moon was not a pugilistic competition, rather a test of will, ingenuity and faith.
NASA officials estimate more than 400,000 engineers, scientists and other technical workers contributed to the moon missions. They were each a small cog in a giant machine that made massive technological leaps forward. The mission demanded both extraordinary imagination and unprecedented invention.
It also gave us a single goal, a single team for which we all could root.
Think about it, when else have we all locked onto a broadcast together, held our breath together, and cheered together?
Our nation has collectively risen to overcome countless hurdles during the past two and a half centuries. But few were challenges set by audacious imagination.
Fifty years is a long time, the wedges that divide us seem to sink deeper every day, and political posturing seems more common than accomplishment for the common good.
Yet, tonight, when we crane our necks to gaze at the moon, we hope you will join us. We hope all Americans join us as our imaginations carry us to space and back.
Because nothing brings us together like our collective wonder.