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ROGER WATSON COLUMN: An out of this world moment

The new documentary about the Apollo 11 mission recently in theaters, and now available on Amazon Prime and at Redbox, is an extremely well done trip back in time to what may well be remembered as the best day in American history.

For those looking for a local perspective on the Apollo 11 mission, a special lecture, “The Apollo Program: Looking Back 50 Years Later” will be presented Monday at 7 p.m. in the sanctuary of Central United Methodist Church.

Roger Watson

Apollo 11 is slightly before my time. I was 6 months old on the July day when the world watched Neil Armstrong step onto the lunar surface.

After watching the documentary, I was left with a question. What have we done as a society since then? The answer is more complicated than seems.

We stopped going to the moon, but have spent lots of time circling the Earth. We have built a couple space stations and have had our hearts broken when we were reminded space travel is anything but routine. The loss of the crews of Challenger and Columbia make the feats of the Apollo program all the more remarkable.

We stopped going to the moon not because we lost courage or space travel became less cool. We stopped going because other priorities took precedence. We began working to make life better for all of us down here on Earth. It can be debated how well we have done with that but overall, we seem to be in a better place than 50 years ago.

The huge main frame computers in Mission Control that helped guide the spacecraft to the moon and back have been replaced by a more powerful device we carry in our pockets. The sea of white, male faces that made up the people staring into the monochromatic computer screens in 1969 have now been greatly diversified with women and African Americans. Also, we have learned that smoking in the workplace, even at NASA’s Mission Control, isn’t cool.

Although we still have a ways to go in some areas, I hope we treat people better 50 years later than we did in 1969. After getting through the Cold War and dealing with the evils of terrorism, I think we are mostly better world partners. I would have felt better making that claim in 2016 than now, but overall, I believe it to be true.

While we have pretty much handed the keys to space over to Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, society as a whole has progressed and gotten better since July 20, 1969. But it sure would be cool to go back to the moon.

Roger Watson is publisher of The Stanly News & Press.