1960s question, "Do you remember where you were the day Kennedy was shot?" My answer is "I remember an overwhelming feeling of tragedy and loss" and "the sense that we, as a global people, are not going to make it through difficult times."
Rather than focus on the many remembrance day activities that will flood the media with nostalgic images of Armstrong and Aldrin on the Moon, I want to turn to the future and why should we continue to spend money on space exploration. We should go back to the Moon, whether in person or by robotic rovers, to complete Apollo's unfinished geologic exploration of the Moon. There are plethora of debate websites that examine the competing factors in such decisions, Overwhelming, the American public supports the space program and support it far beyond what politicians want to spend on it. 72% of the public agrees that "It is essential U.S. continue to be a world leader in space exploration" and 80% agree that "It is essential that NASA continue to be involved in space exploration." In other words, do not turn space exploration over to private corporations.
We do not continue space exploration - which is a relatively inefficient and expensive way to gain advances in life changing benefits of consumer technology - as Kennedy put it, "because we choose to do it because it is hard." The motivation for space exploration does not flow from a genetic predisposition to explore the natural world.
Rather, we choose to do it because each generation needs something to inspire itself beyond its own personal boundaries - to be part of something that is greater than ourselves. We choose to do space exploration because it provides a glimpse of a higher purpose and better future than that provided by the hum-drum of the everyday life of a consumerist in a modern global economy. That was meaning of the two KUED remembrance interviews with Seth Jarvis (13 years old in 1969) and Stuart Becher, a solider fighting in the jungles of north-central Vietnam (in his 20s in 1969).
In the nineteenth century, that inspirational project was the recently celebrated transcontinental railroad - that ended in and if not caused largest historical collapse of the U.S. economy in 1873. But the railroad also inspired a nation to be better and larger than itself. In the early 20th century, several nations took up building the Panama Canal. In the mid-twentieth century, it was Armstrong on the Moon.
It would a sign of the better side of our humanity if what inspired our culture to act were the nobler Earth-based objectives like ending world hunger, providing an adequate education to all children, solving climate change, reducing excessive economic inequality, or providing health care as a basic human right. What actually does inspire us to come together are the politically easier common goals like exploration.
Each generation alone chooses its own grand inspirational act. Space exploration is just one choice among many. Today, the memory of Apollo - like the memory of World War II - is fading. In 1969, there were about 202M Americans alive, and 99% of them remain alive today. But in 2019, the 202M persons alive in 1969 comprise only 60% of America's current 329M population. That 40% of Americans were not alive in 1969 is enough reason alone to celebrate and remember the 50th anniversary of the Apollo landing, so the next generation will learn the important social lesson of pursuing a national or global dream.
Inspiration alone is worth the price of space exploration. In echoing Kennedy, I say we go not because it is hard, but because it inspires all of us to be better people.