Man landed on the moon 50 years ago. It was an amazing feat. It was an aspirational and inspirational accomplishment that was watched by 20% of the world population. That was probably close to everyone who had a television.
What made the accomplishment even more amazing at the time was the rudimentary tools available. The computers had very little capacity compared to even our Fitbit or iWatch. The interfaces from the computer to the physical world were very unreliable. NASA would have loved the gyro or the ability to monitor your heart rate in your watch today.
I may be the only person you know who was programing computers 50 years ago. (There were not many of us.) I was a systems engineer for IBM in 1969. I was not putting people on the moon at that time. I was helping companies run their entire business on computers with as little as 8K processors and 5 meg of disk memory. IBM was revolutionizing companies and processes. The fears at that time were that computers would obsolete workers … much like the fears today about robotics in the workplace.
President John F. Kennedy showed the vision and executive presence to inspire an entire nation to get behind an audacious goal of going to the moon.
You probably have seen movies that show computers with blinking lights and levers. Fifty years ago, those lights and levers allowed a programmer to stop the computer program at a certain point and change the program and data using the levers to replace the “0” and “1” (that instructed the computer and represented the data). Much more rudimentary capability than your Fitbit or watch.
There was so little computer memory that programmers recorded years in two digits rather than four (1969 = 69) to save space. It was always assumed that the programs being written at that time would be replaced before the year 2000. Many old programs were not replaced and thus there was the “Y2K” crisis at the turn of the century. Another way to look at the capacity in 1969, capturing one average photograph today would have exceeded all the computer capacity for an entire medium sized company.
In 1969, people wrote letters by hand or typewriter and mailed them. Delivery was measured in days and weeks.
In today’s dollars, long distance phone calls (on landlines) cost $5 to $50 per minute with the help of a phone operator. There were no answering machines or VCR’s. People used cash and checks. Most stores were not air conditioned. Most stores were closed on Sundays and evenings. In addition, Vietnam protesters were setting off bombs in restrooms. It was a very different time.
We have many technological things that we now take for granted. It is difficult to imagine how major the accomplishment was to land on the moon and return. A number of people (including my 85-year-old grandfather) found the accomplishment so hard to believe that a they were convinced it was done in a movie studio and we actually did not land on the moon.
Fortunately, the national news was more trusted than it is today so most people accepted the truth of the accomplishment. Landing on the moon 50 years ago is certainly a tribute to what a nation working together for a worthy vision can accomplish. It is worthy of celebration.