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Johnson Space Center
Houston, TX
Lat: 29°33'2.07"N Lon: 95°5'48.97"W
I remember it so vividly. July 20th, 1969. Late at night in the living room of our New Jersey home, my family is gathered around our black-and-white television, transfixed by the snowy, flickering image of an Apollo Lunar Module parked somewhere on the surface of the moon. The moon. Stretched out on the floor in my pajamas, I strive against all odds to keep my eyes open. I think to myself how are we seeing a picture of the first man on the moon when the first man on the moon hasn’t come out of the spaceship yet? Who’s holding the camera? But then Neil Armstrong’s bulky silhouette steps clumsily onto the ladder and awkwardly descends…and my eight year old brain stops wandering. No one in the room dares breathe nor speak. We watch him take one step, then another, then Armstrong saying something, haltingly, broken by static: “…That’s one…small step…for Man…one giant leap for…”

Just like that, mankind walked on the moon. And we Earthlings all said, “Whoa.”

That memory is still fresh in my mind like it was yesterday. That’s how huge an impact space exploration had on this American kid. But unfortunately, since then, it’s never been quite the same. The Shuttle Program was fascinating and amazing but it wasn’t a man on the moon. Mars robots? They are very practical, very cool. But they’re not people! For exploration that matters viscerally to the everyday American, the space program has offered less and less over the years—and we’ve all stopped saying, “Whoa.”

But hang on, there’s hope on the horizon—the one with two moons.

I’ve already driven the Rover on Mars and the Moon. A quick drive in the vehicle (which moves surprisingly fast) took us to area where engineers have mocked-up Mars and lunar surfaces to demonstrate the vehicles’ maneuver abilities, as well as to plan for the big day should it come anytime soon. It surely won’t happen for a number of years but by the looks of the Mars Rover and its highly evolved technology, it’s likely to be sooner than you think.

My inner eight year old hoots for joy. My older self hopes it doesn’t cost too much.
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