Author and historian Douglas Brinkley was only eight years old at the time, but he remembers when American astronaut Neil Armstrong took his small step, but giant leap for mankind on the moon nearly 50 years ago, watching it on television in the family living room in their Zanesville, Ohio, house.
Not only was it a big moment for his country, but Armstrong, a native of Wapakoneta, Ohio, was also viewed as a fellow Ohioan, Brinkley recalled.
His students at Rice University, however, see that moment as long-past history, an artifact of their grandparents' generation. As a resident of a nexus of the American space program — Houston — Brinkley sought to look again at that moment in his book "American Moonshot: John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race," published April 2 by HarperCollins.
Brinkley, a CNN presidential historian and contributing editor at Vanity Fair, will speak on his book and the American mission to the moon in his talk "To The Moon And Back" at 6:30 p.m. Friday, May 24, at the John B. Connally Technology Center auditorium at Texas State Technical College. The lecture and book signing afterward are free and open to the public.
His speech, at the invitation of TSTC regent chairman John K. Hatchel, comes the day before the 58th anniversary of the May 25, 1961, speech by President John F. Kennedy that set the whole project rolling, a challenge to put an American on the moon and bring him back before the decade's end.
While Brinkley remembers the achievement of that goal, another event planted the seed for his book: Brinkley's interview of Neil Armstrong for a National Aeronautics and Space Administration oral history of the moon landing mission.
Kennedy's 1961 challenge came at the intersection of several technological advances and a string of Soviet space-firsts — first Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, first satellite, first animal in space and first human in space.
"The moment was right to go into space," Brinkley said, in a phone interview from a New York stop on his book tour. "Kennedy saw this as a battle of titans, democratic capitalism on one hand and totalitarian communism on the other."
Government, led by the space agency NASA and private industry, both amply funded by what would amount to some 4 percent of the federal budget, rose to the challenge and with popular support. "America became space crazy in the Kennedy years," he said.
The daunting mission was accomplished July 20, 1969, the against-the-odds conclusion to a test of national will. "(Lunar landing flight) Apollo 11 is an American success story, an example of American can-do-ism," he said.