Five decades ago, two men climbed out of a hatch and into history.

As Earth watched from more than 200,000 miles away, the two became the first to step foot on a new world.

In doing so they unshackled an entire species who could now stare into the night  sky, look at the Moon and say, “We’ve been there.”

And we would go back again and again, including Charlie Duke, the 10th man to walk on the moon, who now calls New Braunfels home.

Since the days of Apollo, the United States has helped launch and crew the International Space Station that even now orbits the planet.

We have developed, launched and retired the Space Shuttle program which carried people and payloads into space for decades.

Some of the excitement  from the era of Apollo and the early shuttle missions subsided as years went on. 

Americans began to view space travel as commonplace.

But space was never simple and it was always dangerous. 

Just as there were losses in the Apollo program, there were losses in the shuttle program as well.

Challenger, Columbia.

Names etched in the American consciousness.

One lost as it left Earth’s grasp. Another as it returned home.

Through it all, men and women lined up to reach for the stars, convinced that it was worth it.

Since the retirement of the shuttle program in 2011, much of the excitement with space exploration has shifted to robots that have roamed the surface of Mars and orbiting telescopes that have picked out potential new worlds spinning around far-flung stars.

Earlier this year the first image of a black hole was captured — a structure that had only existed in theory and mathematics before.

It’s all exciting.

But, it’s not the same as knowing that people are walking on the surface of an alien planet.

And for many Americans, it may seem that manned space exploration has been stuck — locked in place since December of 1972, when Apollo 17 left the surface of the Moon.

We had reached for the lunar surface with such speed that it seemed the next step was just beyond our grasp.

We’re still grasping.

Even now Mars beckons, the next step for humanity out into the solar system — and to the stars that lie beyond.

Manned spaceflight is so much more than moon rocks and photos. It thrills. It inspires. 

Five decades after man first stepped foot on the Moon, humanity waits for mankind’s next great leap into the darkness and toward our future.

 

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