The more significant, ingenious part of the Apollo payoff was the Moon landing itself. On July 20, 1969, an estimated 600 million people around the globe watched Neil Armstrong take his first steps onto the lunar surface. It was the “where were you?” moment for not one but two generations. The landing firmly re-established the United States as the world leader of basic scientific research, a winning gambit for the late Kennedy and President Johnson. (The Soviets’ burning hope for a successful Moon landing—the Soyuz spacecraft—had failed its first flight in 1967, sinking the USSR’s lunar efforts.) The mission resounded as a symbolic affirmation of America’s superiority as a nation, and it sent a rallying call for further scientific research and innovation. It is no coincidence that many of today’s leading advocates for STEM education—including tech luminaries Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos—cite the Apollo landing as a foundational moment. Even before Armstrong and company touched down, the Apollo program had employed thousands of researchers from American universities as part of its R&D effort. By the 1960s, space had become an outlet for practical scientific ventures. It was basic science, manifested as a mainstream career path; the Moon landing would ensure its growth. If Samuel P. Langley had been born again during Eisenhower years, he could have enrolled at Harvard as an astronomy major and found gainful employment upon graduation. If nothing else, it would have fit a man who came of age when there were few careers for stargazers.
The moon landing was the “where were you when?” moment for not one but two generations. 9/11 was, unfortunately, the next “where were you when” moment for many of us. What was the biggest "where were you when" moment in your generation? What were you doing at the time? What impact did that moment have on the world around you? How did it impact education?
Most of the Martians in today’s classrooms were not born when 911 took place. How do we ensure that the next “where were you when” moment is a victory for humankind and not a tragedy? What role do we play as educators?