By Perry Gershon - Warrior Contributor
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Apollo’s Lunar Module – Made Close to Home, Filled with Life Lessons
Sometimes global news – and anniversaries of big events – hit close to home. For those living near historically significant locations, that is doubly so. For me, the Apollo 11 moon landing anniversary – which occurred this month – reminds me that many Americans live near places that contributed mightily to that epic achievement. I do, and am proud of that association.
On July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon with 17 seconds of fuel remaining in their lunar module, a seemingly rugged, necessarily fragile, expertly designed moon lander – to which the two entrusted their lives, and to which America entrusted our first moon landing.
The LEM, as it came to be known, was a spacecraft designed for that big and dangerous step – down to the moon from Apollo’s Command Module. The LEM was named “Eagle,” and Command Module “Columbia” – both by the crew themselves.
According an Apollo program history, the LEM was “the most reliable component” of the combined Apollo/Saturn spacecraft, and only part never to experience an uncorrectable failure. In other words, the LEM represented American engineering, can-do, navigation, landing and life support at its best.
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But where did the LEM spacecraft come from? It was designed, constructed and delivered by Grumman – back then, a New York company, located in Long Island, and a pioneer in both lunar navigation and early American fighter aviation.
To many, the local icon – later absorbed into Northrop Grumman and moved out of state – was a source of American enterprise, and all about the Navy. Long Island was – with other locations - a source of America’s best-known early fighters. These included F4F Wildcats, F6F Hellcats, and later F8F Bearcats – as well as the famous “TBM Avenger.” One of those Avenger aircraft, made in Long Island, was later flown from a carrier by George Herbert Walker Bush in World War II.
But to others, America’s space race was the pinnacle of our engineering accomplishment, at least in the 1960s. Across the country, more than 400,000 engineers pooled their talents, helping unify our nation – and reflecting a sense of both unity and high national purpose. Engineers from Long Island did that, and so did engineers coast to coast.
In many ways, the LEM was indicative of taking an impossible, never-before-done task, a bundle of untested engineering hypotheses, and – with unique American confidence, commitment and common purpose – making these impossible notions fly.
What Apollo’s LEM, Long Island’s population, Grumman’s employees and dozens of other communities and companies of that era did – with professionalism and uncompromising belief in the future – was to show that Americans, when we are unified, have no ceiling. We have no end to inspiration, determination and possible accomplishment.
To me, the lesson of the LEM – and of the entire Apollo program, miraculous as it was – is that America is and was a great nation, a people who can reach untold heights when we put aside the trivial and focus on what matters.
That lesson was made and paid forward by Apollo astronauts, engineers and Americans part of the program – and by all those who supported it – in the 1960s. Our job, today, is to take that lesson and apply it. Our job is to put down the trivial, the distractingly political, and concentrate on what matters, unifying to solve problems that confront our generation.
Can we do this? To help solve problems from environmental degradation to border security and humanitarian treatment of refugees? To resolve domestic and international tensions that seem to constantly resurface and generate outrage, but always more heat than light? Can we set aside fears of “the other” and think in terms of the possible, imagine goals that may even seem impossible at present? Can we think creatively, and together, about issues like clean energy technology, infrastructure restoration, and other big projects based on a national consensus?
These are the questions of our time, the challenges that we face, and the basis for thinking about now applying lessons of that epic event – America’s first moon landing in a LEM – to the future that lies before us. My view is that Americans can, once again, unify and produce such outcomes. But we must believe that of ourselves, to get there.
Perry Gershon is a widely recognized business leader and national commentator on business, trade, policy and politics. A congressional candidate for New York’s first district, he holds a B.A. from Yale and an M.B.A. from the Univ. of California, Berkeley.