Like many Texas kids on the night of July 20, 1969, Rick Tumlinson watched Neil Armstrong step down from the lunar excursion module. It was a moment that would change his life. Tumlinson, who grew up in the West Texas city of San Angelo, would end up founding several space companies, write books on space exploration and launch the nonprofit Space Frontier Foundation to lead a discussion about humans’ future in space. These endeavors are things he says is common among the so-called Children Of Apollo.
“People will ask, occasionally, about spinoffs,” Tumlinson says about how the moon landing influenced his generation. “I will give you the most important spinoff that I believe occurred, and that’s what I call the ‘Children Of Apollo.’ Those are the kids, like me, sitting cross-legged on the floor watching this thing happen.”
Tumlinson says that when children saw space depicted on television, juxtaposed with the reality of man’s walk on the moon, they were inspired.
“In a kid’s mind they say, ‘Well, we can do it. I want to study. I want to stay in school. I want to be a coder,’ or what ever it was,” he says. “And these are the kids now that have grown up. It’s no accident that Elon Musk is going to Mars, or Jeff Bezos is doing what he’s doing. They were influenced by seeing this; that’s where it all comes from. My entire generation produced – and generations to follow – the Children Of Apollo. More important than hardware, it’s this imagination that was fired by [the thoughts of], ‘We can go, we can do it.'”
In that sense, perhaps, the spirit of 1969 most closely resembles what you might call the “Spirit of Texas.” At the end of the day, is the story of that mission to the moon really a Texas story? Too much of a stretch? Not a bit.
Remember what President John F. Kennedy said back in September 1962 at Rice University?
“What was once the furthest outpost on the old frontier of the West will be the furthest outpost on the new frontier of science and space,” Kennedy said.
Our mission to the moon remains that furthest outpost even 50 years later. So where to next? Maybe that’s the wrong question. Maybe it’s, “What do we want to do?”
For those of us who are lucky enough to have seen those grainy images of Neil Armstrong, or felt chills as he declared a “giant leap” for us all, we are likely too old to be among that next generation of explorers, to be the ones who will take that spirit of ’69 into a new century, and to places far more distant than the moon.
But 50 years later, after one of the most exciting journeys in human history, perhaps there is a mission, or more of a responsibility, to try to capture the spirit of excitement, anticipation and joyous expectation that Apollo 11 would come to represent. A responsibility to help to spark an appreciation for doing the very thing others might call impossible.
So, is it Texas story? Through and through.