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Fifty years ago, two men took a walk on the moon.

Much will be written this month about astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s stroll on July 20, 1969. Their Apollo 11 mission was the end of America’s Space Race with the Soviet Union. Together with astronaut Michael Collins, they fulfilled President John F. Kennedy’s challenge to “land a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.”

And while their accomplishment was a feat for the ages that was just the first step of the journey of mankind. It was the technology that put Armstrong and Aldrin on the moon that was the true leap forward back then.

We put man on the moon using a slide rule and less computer power in the craft than you can find in a John Deere combine today. In 1961 “technology” was mimeograph machines and computers that took up entire rooms. There was no big push for grand engineering feats advancing communications, transportation, healthcare or just convenient living.

But then, the world got caught up in the Space Race, and suddenly engineers of every type needed to up their game in order to reach the moon first. Fortunately, for us terrestrial types, those engineering feats had multiple applications in the private sector.

Thanks to NASA, we have a satellite communication network that brings us FaceTime with Grandma, weather reports and several thousand options for entertainment at the click of a button from our rural communities.

Thanks to NASA, we have better artificial limbs for accident victims, scratch-resistant lenses for welding helmets and safety goggles, food safety guidelines and lighter fire-fighting equipment that saves lives.

Thanks to NASA, we have cordless tools, radial tires, and LED lights that all made their way into our farm shops.

Thanks to NASA we have palm-sized computers that can look up anything on the Internet (itself a research marvel) and contain a miniature camera that can take still photos and video, and allow us to use apps that help us make decisions on the farm.

Thanks to NASA we have at least three generations of engineers who have written computer codes to make our lives more convenient. Engineers who made our structures lighter and durable with new materials and polymers. Engineers who have figured out how to do it better, quicker, safer and efficient in every way possible. And then figure out how to apply those tools and that knowledge to growing crops, feeding livestock, caring for the land and the people on it.

The new push is to send men to Mars and there’s been some pushback as the debate centers on if that’s a valid use of limited funds.

I say, if a trip to the moon 50 years ago brought us so much more advancements than mankind had dreamed of in the previous 500, it makes you wonder—what knowledge and technology will the next 50 years bring for us?

Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached at 620-227-1807 or jlatzke@hpj.com.

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