This weekend marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission. On July 20, 1969, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon. “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” Armstrong so eloquently said. The moon landing indeed was a major moment in history.
Apollo 11 was the ninth endeavor in the 14-mission Apollo moonshot program, and it was believed to be NASA’s most dangerous and ambitious mission ever. Standing 363 feet tall, the Saturn V rocket that launched the Apollo 11 astronauts into space is still the tallest, heaviest, and most powerful rocket ever flown. It took 7.5 million pounds of thrust to get Armstrong, Aldrin, and Michael Collins off of Earth. It took them four days to reach the moon. Interestingly, they missed their original target. They realized that the lunar module, called “Eagle,” had overshot its intended landing point by 4 miles. Armstrong switched into manual mode and flew to another landing site. The “Eagle” landed. It is believed that they touched down with just 45 seconds’ worth of fuel left in the landing tank. Wow, how that could have changed things.
Armstrong was the first to touch the ground, making the giant leap, followed by Aldrin. Collins stayed in lunar orbit while the other 2 walked the moon for 2 hours. The astronauts planted an American flag, collected moon samples, took pictures, and answered a call from the White House. It was an eventful couple of hours. Five other American flags were planted on the lunar surface between 1969 and 1972. Last checked, five flags were still standing. But scientists think sunlight has likely bleached away the red and blue, leaving the fabric white. They may even be disintegrating in the harsh conditions.
The Apollo mission was not necessarily popular with the American people. In 1969, it was recorded that only 39% of Americans polled supported the efforts to put someone on the moon. But by the time the astronauts landed, the mood seemed to change significantly. The space race was on. American pride soared. The successful Apollo 11 mission demonstrated to the world that the United States was the innovator by taking the lead in space. We leapfrogged the Soviets as superpowers. Space became the final frontier.
Today is a new phase of the space race. It is not being led by the American government, but rather by some of the greatest innovative minds: Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Richard Branson headline this group of thousands. SpaceX, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic are the startups leading the charge. Space tourism is apparently in reach, with civilian space travel expected in the coming years.
This race has significance far beyond bragging rights and national prestige. Today’s space race is about commercial and economic growth as well as national security. It’s about communications and data and the ability to monitor global activity as well as explore the great beyond. The participants in today’s race are establishing next-generation satellite capabilities with enormous value to commercial and government customers alike. These critical national security missions include telecommunications, global positioning, surveillance, weather and space warfare. The stakes are astronomical. The nations that win this race will also gain the 21st-century military edge, much like the aviation leaders did in the 20th-century and naval leaders in the 17th-century. They will also position themselves to take advantage of the space economy’s nearly $3 trillion opportunity. China is investing heavily in this area. 49 years after Armstrong and Aldrin, China became the first to land on the dark side of the moon.
The US government has been more hands-off in the last few years, leaving it to private American innovators. The 21st-century is proving to be a renaissance for American ingenuity and innovation. We just need to keep shooting for the stars and think bigger, beyond today. It’s an exciting time on Planet Earth. It’s also a scary time. We need more positive steps, big and small. We need more big picture, long-term thinking. It’s all very investable.
Have a nice weekend. We’ll be back, dark and early on Monday.