Last night my extended family and I attended the annual John Glenn lecture at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air & Space Museum. This year was a special occasion as the lecture was jointly given by the original Apollo 11 crew and was a real treat. Each of the astronauts is almost 80 now but they all are as sharp as ever. Their talks were entertaining, informative, and inspiring. July 20, 1969 we (Americans, humans, living organisms) first set foot on an extraterrestrial body. Wow.
Perhaps I am biased by my life around the perimeter of the space industry, but 40 years later I still find our quest for the Moon to be incredibly inspiring. If you haven’t watched US President John F. Kennedy’s “to the Moon” speech, I encourage you to take 9 minutes to do so. Again, perhaps I am biased because it was delivered in Rice Stadium, a place where I shed a lot of blood, sweat, and tears during my time as a Rice football player, but it still gives me chills every time I watch it. Some of my favorite quotes from this short speech:
“But this city of Houston, this state of Texas, this country of the United States was not built by those who waited and rested and wished to look behind them.” “All great and honorable actions are accompanied with great difficulties.” “Man and his quest for knowledge and progress is determined and cannot be deterred.” “But ‘Why,’ some say, ‘the Moon? Why choose this as our goal?’ And they may well ask, ‘Why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas? We choose to go to the Moon! We choose to go to the Moon! We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things not because they are easy, but because they are hard. Because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills. Because that challenge is one we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win–and the others too.”
I find this to be the essence of leadership. Kennedy mobilized an entire nation in pursuit of a common, peaceful goal. He empowered our best scientists and engineers to over perform and he supported them with the resources necessary to realize a seemingly impossible dream. Less than eight years after this speech was given, hundreds of thousands of Americans (and some key Germans!) had come together to develop the myriad diverse systems to launch humans into space from Earth, escape Earth’s gravitational pull, arrive precisely at the Moon, maintain orbit around the Moon, jettison a vehicle to land on the Moon, sustain human life both inside and outside the vehicle, launch humans into space from the Moon, rendezvous with an orbiting space craft, escape the Moon’s gravitational pull, re-enter Earth’s atmosphere, and land safely in the ocean.
Wow. It is a true testament to what humans are capable of when they are motivated and unified around a common goal. Wow. As many of you know, I believe that humans–not just Americans, but all humans–must unify around a new common goal: addressing the global energy challenge. The myriad diverse systems necessary for us to revolutionize energy production, transmission, storage, and consumption will require an even more Herculean effort than did the quest for the Moon. However, looking back at what we did 40 years ago, I am filled with confidence that we can do it–and the resolve that we must!