There were giants in the earth in those days… mighty men which were of old, men of renown.
Yesterday we celebrated the 90th birthday of Buzz Aldrin, one of the last living titans of an epic era. Half a century ago, Buzz, with Neil Armstrong, did something that had been synonymous with “the impossible.”
They landed their spaceship, the Eagle, on the moon.
This was rapidly followed by Armstrong and Aldrin’s doing the very first true “moonwalk.” Enthralled, I watched the landing and that walk on a black and white TV in the student center at Clarion State College. They planted the American flag. Not to claim the moon for America but with a declaration that they had come in peace for all mankind.
They collected lunar samples, took photos, accepted a congratulatory phone call from President Nixon. With a felt-tipped pen, Aldrin fixed the ascent engine’s broken circuit breaker that threatened doom.
To complete this picture let us now praise the third member of the Apollo XI trio, command module pilot Michael Collins, who, orbiting high above Tranquility Base, entered into possibly the loneliest situation ever experienced by modern man: intermittently alone and out of contact with everyone from Earth to moon, sailing alone, above, over the dark side of the moon.
Drama? The very survival of these astronauts was no sure thing. Presidential speechwriter William Safire had pre-written a eulogy should their lives be forfeited.
Then, Armstrong and Aldrin blasted off, rendezvoused with Collins, docked, and returned to Earth. These three had challenged the Heavens and returned in triumph. Much of Earth had its eyes turned Heavenward throughout.
What visual drama! Three brave souls launched skyward on a pillar of fire of Biblical proportions. They returned dangling from a cluster of parachutes resembling angels’ wings. All the astronauts (and with less fanfare, the cosmonauts) re-enacted this scene.
That said, Apollo XI enacted it having just done the impossible.
Heroic feats provide great spectacle. This one was a doozy. It was followed by a recovery by the aircraft carrier USS Hornet, tickertape parades, the Congressional Gold Medal, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
That said, spectacles come and go. A fickle public quickly forgets who did what. Players readily are relegated to an encyclopedia entry, a Jeopardy question, a book or books that make a ripple and disappear.
The human flight space program, however, especially Project Apollo and its apotheosis, Apollo XI, was more than a spectacle. It was the most glamorous element of an epic struggle between the United States of America and the Soviet Union. Epics appeal to the most powerful force of the human mind: the imagination.
Epics are for the ages.
History is one thing. Epics are another. Who doesn’t know the stories of love and war, of the heroic Achilles of the “Iliad” and the story of the “Odyssey” with Odysseus’s homecoming long thwarted by the wrath of a god, the exotic adventures, routing the suitors, the reclaiming of wife, son, home, and Ithaca’s throne?
Other epics? Virgil’s “Aeneid,” tale of the travels of the founder of Rome; the epic of “Gilgamesh” and the quest for immortality; the books of "Exodus" and "Kings"; Malory’s “King Arthur”; the “Ramayana” and “Mahabharata.” Fictional epics such as “War and Peace” or “Gone With the Wind.” Indelible.
The 20th century was defined by three epic struggles: World War I and the collapse of Empire; World War II and the defeat of Nazism, Fascism, and Japanese Militarism; and the Cold War — really, World War III — and the triumph of liberal republican capitalism over totalitarian communism. America’s rival had shocked the world by launching the first artificial satellite, Sputnik, and again by putting the first man into space, Yuri Gagarin.
These landed a blow to the prestige of America. President Kennedy took up the gauntlet, and, on September 12, 1962 announced that America would send men to the moon and return them safely by the end of the decade. After a truly epic effort, embodying the work of many thousands, we did the impossible. America thereby recovered its prestige as a scientific and technological superpower.
The astronauts were the knights of our era, clad in the high-tech suits of armor. Our astronauts shared the credit widely and yet were seen as, and were, the tip of the spear. They put their lives on the line to win the crucial Cold War battle for the commanding heights. They won that battle with honor, vigor, and flair.
The future will remember our astronauts, especially Aldrin, Armstrong, and Collins whereby the human flight space program reached a crescendo, as paramount figures of our era’s defining epic. The names of the heroes of space will live forever in human memory.
Their story was not merely epic.
It was an epic.
Happy birthday, Buzz Aldrin.
Ralph Benko, co-author of "The Capitalist Manifesto" and chairman and co-founder of "The Capitalist League," is the founder of The Prosperity Caucus and is an original Kemp-era member of the Supply Side revolution that propelled the Dow from 814 to its current heights and world GDP from $11T to $83T. He served as a deputy general counsel in the Reagan White House, has worked closely with the Congress and two cabinet agencies, and has published over a million words on politics and policy in the mainstream media, as a distinguished professional blogger, and as the author of the internationally award-winning cult classic book "The Websters' Dictionary: How to Use the Web to Transform the World." He has served as senior advisor, economics, to APIA as an advocate of the gold standard, senior counselor to the Chamber of Digital Commerce and serves as general counsel to Frax.finance, a stablecoin venture. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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