Apollo 11: How millennials can grasp the greatest event ever — for now

Apollo 11: How millennials can grasp the greatest event ever — for now
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When musing on Twitter about what inspires people about space exploration, Laura Seward Forczyk, the author of the upcoming "Rise of the Space Age Millennials," offered an interesting insight.

“Apollo largely didn't inspire millennials. The 50th anniversary of Apollo is anti-inspirational to the future space workforce. What inspires the next-gen? SpaceX,” she tweeted.

This supposition is understandable. The first moon landing took place not only before millennials were born but before most of their parents came into the world. Indeed, the current NASA administrator, the young reformer named Jim BridenstineJames (Jim) Frederick BridenstineBill Nelson is a born-again supporter of commercial space at NASA Has the Biden administration abandoned the idea of a moon base? Bill Nelson's nomination as NASA administrator is replete with irony MORE, who has been tasked with sending people back to (or forward to as he prefers to say) the moon was born several years after Neil Armstrong’s one small step.


Elon Musk, the CEO of SpaceX, is one of the cool kids where it comes to space exploration. He is not only showing NASA how space flight is done in the 21st century, he is also building the mother of all rocket ships in south Texas, which many think may beat NASA back to the moon.

Meanwhile, a new documentary, "Apollo 11," has recently been released on Imax and the regular big screen that may show some of the millennials why the moon landing is such a big deal. It certainly demonstrated that fact to those people who are old enough to think both Apollo and SpaceX are pretty cool.

The first thing that one notices as "Apollo 11" begins is the epic scale of the program to land men on the surface of the moon and return them safely to the Earth. The sight of the Saturn V rolling slowly but relentlessly from the Vehicle Assembly Building to the launch pad, with men walking around it like ants gathered around an immense machine, is breathtaking. Human beings built such apparatuses beginning from a standing stop in 1961 to the reality in the summer of 1969.

Two other sights relate the enormity of the lunar effort.

The movie has several panoramic shots of people who had gathered under the blazing Florida sun to watch the greatest technological feat in human history. The witnesses to the moon shot were mainly families, coming in cars and campers and parked anywhere they could to see the Saturn V with the Apollo spacecraft on top slowly rise into the partly cloudy sky.


The launch itself starts with something that seems like an explosion underneath the Saturn V moon rocket. But that explosion is really the burning of rocket fuel that turned what was in effect a mobile skyscraper into a spaceship.

It depicts the nail-biting, near run thing that the actual moon landing was. As the altitude decreased, the fuel level became dangerously low. No margin for error existed when the words, “Contact light,” were spoken and then, after some technical crosstalk, “Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”

Some quieter shots also appear, mostly on the faces of the men (it was mostly but not entirely men who sent Apollo 11 on its epic voyage), many in that NASA late 60s uniform of white shirt, narrow, dark tie and dark slacks. They were not the cool kids of the sixties. They were the nerds and geeks who loved science and engineering. But they did something that was incredibly cooler than anything done before or since.

"Apollo 11" is not so much a movie as it is a window into the past. No one, not even the most jaded millennial, can fully grasp the moon landing and come away with a “meh” attitude about the achievement. For people born after the event, this view may come as a revelation. It should come also as a rallying cry and a rebuke.

A revealing photo was taken during the recent flight of the Crewed Dragon of Musk and Bridenstine seated side by side. Nobody like Musk existed in 1969. Bridenstine is a product of the 21st century, as well, with immense political skills and even greater passion. The slightly mad entrepreneur genius and the politician/visionary are tasked with creating the sequel to the Apollo program.

Sometime, perhaps sooner than many think, people will go to the moon again. When they do, they will launch from atop the shoulders of giants.

Mark Whittington is the author of space exploration studies “Why is It So Hard to Go Back to the Moon? as well as “The Moon, Mars and Beyond.”