Letter: Why the Apollo Culture Was Unique

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Walter Cunningham, John Logsdon and others have written well and intelligently on the Apollo culture and its applicability today [“The End of the Apollo Culture? What a Shame,” Commentary, July 12, page 19, and “The End of the Apollo Era — Finally?” Commentary, July 5, page 19]. The dialogue on the direction of the space program and the NASA culture needed to support that direction is important and must continue.

What all of these people fail to point out is that the Apollo culture was driven by the uniqueness of the goal. They have written about the space race and the clash of societal beliefs, but they have missed the underlying motivation.

Those of us who worked on Apollo understood in the most elemental and deepest part of our beings that the first step on the Moon would be a unique event not just in the history of humanity but in the history of life on Earth. In the 4 billion years of the solar system, no living creature had crossed from one natural body in space to another. Possibly the event stands alone in the 14 billion years of the universe.

The first footstep of a living creature on the Moon was the result of the conscious, rational decision to apply resources, intelligence, imagination and the accumulated knowledge of our species to do something immensely difficult that was unique. It was not the emulation of something occurring in nature, like atmospheric flight. People in nontechnological societies not involved in the space race around the world understood in the same fundamental way when they held up signs saying “We Did It” to celebrate that first step. They got it. We, all human beings who lived and had ever lived, even all life that had ever existed on Earth, had done it.

Even if living creatures from Earth eventually stand on asteroids, or on Mars, or on planets circling other stars, these events will only be extensions of that first step. This basic, almost subconscious understanding of the uniqueness of the undertaking in all of time motivated the participants, drove the culture of Apollo and makes it impossible to ever fully reproduce that culture on any other program.

 

Stephen A. Evans

Foothill Ranch, Calif.