- The Washington Times - Friday, July 20, 2001

On July 20, 1969 32 years ago today America's position as the unrivaled champion of dreaming and daring was affirmed in a way that, even now, quiets doubters of American resolve.
On the strength of a simple vision held by successive presidents and Congresses, supported by an army of can-do engineers and an American public that concentrated less on the "me" and more on "us," less on the "now" and more on intergenerational goals, this blessed nation placed three men in orbit around the moon, and two on the lunar surface. I was one of those two.
In that moment, mankind was, as Richard Nixon succinctly declared, "truly one." From John Kennedy to Lyndon Johnson and then to Nixon, the torch of daring and of human space exploration was bravely passed. The effect of our moon landing that day was beyond what any of the Apollo astronauts might have imagined, beyond what the Gemini and Mercury crews that preceded it could have envisioned. It was catalytic.
Scientific breakthroughs coming out of that manned exploration mission began in the early 1960s and cascaded into the decades that followed. National security was enhanced, but that was only part of the victory. From medical imaging equipment and microtechnologies to the computer and satellite communications, America's commitment to the Apollo moon program showed that daring purposes produce unimaginable gains, and for all humanity.
Around the globe, that moment stands as a sort of living beacon, lighting the way in conversations that otherwise would dead-end in "it cannot be done." It was an achievement not of a few men or the National Aeronautics and Space Administration or even America, on reflection. It was an achievement of the human spirit, and the faith of mere men in the daring that allowed them to trust in their Creator and reach outward.
The question that lingers now, more than three decades after that moment, is this: Does the world, and does America in particular, still have the ability to dream such dreams and dare so boldly? That question was never more timely than in July 2001. This is the year Arthur C. Clarke chose as an emblem of America's can-do spirit and the unstoppable nature of intergenerational daring.
Yet where are we now? We have stalled in our drive to reach outward. We appear to have become content watching shuttles launch and land in brief forays to near-Earth orbit. These missions are important. So is the success of NASA's space station. But these practiced feats are not exploration. They are place-holders for something larger. They await concerted leadership by a new president and political leaders who recognize America's enduring obligation to intergenerational achievement.
Now, more than 30 years after walking on the moon, there is a forgivable tendency among some to wonder if America has somehow forgotten how to take intelligent risks, how to aim for extraordinary goals, and how to put in place the steps necessary for their attainment. People I encounter muse on whether this nation could repeat, even with our enormous technological leaps, what we did three decades ago. I tell them that the aim is not simply to revisit the moon, but to properly go beyond, to reach outward. Our mission must be to establish a lasting human presence on the moon, and to finally get on with what we started, exploration that includes a long overdue manned mission to Mars.
After all, I remind them, America's character is what it has always been. Since our earliest days, we have been a nation defined by action, risk, intergenerational thinking, vision and commitment. In our moments of greatness, the ones that truly set this nation and culture apart, those five traits are always found. They distinguish us and bind us together as a people.
Beyond question is the fact that America will prosper mightily from future space exploration. Whether success is measured by enhanced national security, leadership in widening global cooperation, scientific discovery, medical advancement, spiritual enrichment, technological breakthroughs for the Earthbound, expansion of commercial and recreational opportunities in space, bettering the odds of long-term survivability for the human race, greater reflection on our terrestrial environment in the context of space, development of parallel living environments, the thrill of adventure, or the manifestation of our pioneer spirit as we reach out into the last great frontier, success is ours for the striving.
Those are the thoughts that animate one moonwalker on this 32nd anniversary. As a nation, we are destined to do more than sit and wonder. We are destined to dream, to dare, and to do. So, the next time you gaze up at the night sky or upon the face of the distant moon, remember that our national character drove us out into the darkness once. The sense of accomplishment was almost unparalleled, and the opportunity for leadership was no more or less present than it is right now.
For those that doubt our resolve, perhaps it is time to show again that America is still a people who dream of things larger than themselves, who are unafraid to dare mightily in the quest to realize extraordinary intergenerational goals. Perhaps it is time to reach outward for the moon again, for Mars, and beyond.

Buzz Aldrin, former astronaut, was lunar module pilot for the Apollo 11 mission and was the second man to walk on the moon. He is chairman of ShareSpace Foundation, a citizen-focused group.

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