Imagine that it’s July 20, 2019, and you are among 100 people randomly selected to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
You’ll enjoy an evening of cocktails and commemoration, and best of all you’ll be regaled by stories from Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, the two remaining crew members from the successful Apollo 11 mission.
You’ll tour the mission control room, which has been lovingly restored down to replica carpet and authentic cigarette butts pried from between old control panels and soft drink cans scattered across desks and table.
Imagine looking around and taking in that scene. Take a closer look at the 99 other guests gathered.
Among all 100 of you, at least five or six will not believe that what they are seeing is rooted in reality. They believe that the moon landing was an elaborate hoax orchestrated by the U. S. government.
There will always be doubters and skeptics, people who don’t believe despite all evidence to the contrary.
They stand in stark contrast to those who do believe, and believe so strongly that they will an idea into existence.
It takes out-of-this-world moxie to believe that humans could put one of their own on the moon, and the people behind the Apollo missions had it. Here’s how:
Moxie begins with vision.
In 1961, the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union was already heating up, and the Soviets were pulling ahead. President John F. Kennedy cast the situation in dire terms, as a “battle between freedom and tyranny,” and on May 25, 1961 called on Congress to commit the resources and leadership to accomplish a breathtakingly audacious goal:
“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth,” he declared. “No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”
Kennedy believed the United States had the resources and the talents needed to accomplish the task. All we lacked was the vision and the sense of urgency.
It takes moxie to supply both vision and urgency, and Kennedy had it. His vision was fulfilled a few short years after his untimely death, months before the close of the decade.
Moxie requires risk.
As the name suggests, the successful Apollo 11 moon landing wasn’t the first Apollo mission. It was the 11th. Each mission represented incremental steps towards the goal of landing astronauts on the moon and bringing them safely home again.
But the first Apollo mission came to serve as perhaps the most powerful and sobering reminder of the risks inherent to the challenge of space exploration. During a routine test, a fire broke out inside the Apollo Command Module. All three astronauts trapped inside the module — Edward H. White II, Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, and Roger B. Chaffee – perished in the flames.
The tragedy was a wakeup call to everyone working on the mission. Mission control leader Gene Kranz famously issued his “Kranz Dictum,” setting the standard for everyone in the space program to approach their work with toughness and competence.
“From this day forward, Flight Control will be known by two words: ‘Tough’ and ‘Competent’. Tough means we are forever accountable for what we do or what we fail to do. We will never again compromise our responsibilities. Every time we walk into Mission Control we will know what we stand for. Competent means we will never take anything for granted. We will never be found short in our knowledge and in our skills. Mission Control will be perfect,” he told those gathered in a meeting after the Apollo 1 disaster. “When you leave this meeting today you will go to your office and the first thing you will do there is to write ‘Tough and Competent’ on your blackboards. It will never be erased. Each day when you enter the room these words will remind you of the price paid by Grissom, White, and Chaffee. These words are the price of admission to the ranks of Mission Control.”
It takes moxie to take risks, particularly if you understand the full cost of those risks. The men and women of the space program had it.
Moxie is a team sport.
Everyone knows the name of the man who first stepped foot on the moon – Neil Armstrong – and most recognize the names Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, too. They were the astronauts who risked life and limb on the moon shot.
But they didn’t get there and back on their own. Thousands of dedicated professionals stood behind them, creating every piece of equipment that helped them accomplish their mission.
Have you considered the seamstresses who sewed the spacesuits? They were plucked from the Playtex factory floor and sent to sew the suits, chosen for their skill and agility. The pressure was tremendous.
“I went home on many a night and cried because I knew I couldn’t do it. I was scared,” said Anna Lee Minner, one of the women who worked on the suits. “This was a person’s life this depended on.”
It takes moxie to take responsibility for another person’s life, and the team that put the Apollo 11 crew on the moon and brought them safely home had it.
It’s not inaccurate to say that America put a man on the moon, because we all did. It took a collective commitment of resources and commitment to a unifying vision to achieve what seemed impossible.
What else might we be capable of doing?